Hewitt’s brave stand keeps Aussies in Davis Cup
LLEYTON Hewitt has rolled back the years alongside John Peers to beat Austria's Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-5 and keep alive Australia's hopes in the Davis Cup playoff in Graz.
Team captain Hewitt, playing in his 80th match in the green and gold, 19 years after making his debut, nominated himself ahead of the struggling Jordan Thompson who'd originally been slated to partner Peers.
Australia's top-ranked player John Millman, who's been struggling with illness following his US Open quarter-final, sat in as temporary courtside skipper at the Messe Grand complex on outdoor clay.
After Jordan Thompson and Alex de Minaur lost their singles rubbers to Dominic Thiem and Dennis Novak respectively, Saturday's doubles clash was a must-win for the visitors.
Hewitt and Peers broke the Austrians twice in the first four games to steamroll their way through the opening set and an early break of Melzer's serve helped them take out the second.
But roared on by a noisy 6000-strong home crowd, Austria hit back to take the the third set following a marathon point at 3-1 on the Marach serve that produced 11 deuces and saw the hosts save eight break points.
The fourth set was a close affair with both teams holding serve until the Peers crunched a forehand winner to break Marach and seal the win.
"This is Davis Cup doubles," Hewitt said.
"This is what it's meant to be - it's meant to be on the middle day, it's meant to be best-of-five sets and we're playing in a tough place, away from home, on a tough clay court.
"John played fantastic today. We gelled really well, we came out at the start and lit it up and then had to dig deep in the fourth set."
De Minaur now faces the daunting prospect of taking on Thiem, the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal's king of clay crown in the opening reverse singles rubber on Sunday.
World No. 8 Thiem dropped just four games in a 95-minute dismantling of Thompson and beat de Minaur comfortably in their only previous meeting at last year's US Open.
"It's gonna be a very tough ask again tomorrow," Hewitt said.
"But all my boys will prepare as well as possible and we'll do absolutely everything we can and we'll leave it all out here.
"If it's good enough, it is, and if it's not, it's not. But we'll give 100 per cent."
The winner of the tie will be seeded for the qualifying round of the revamped Davis Cup in February.
Meanwhile, France captain Yannick Noah said he "deserved a beer" to celebrate his defending Davis Cup champions' seamless progress past Spain and into their second successive final on Saturday.
Who France will face in November will be determined on Sunday, with the United States winning their doubles against Croatia to trail 2-1 ahead of the closing two rubbers in the other semi-final in Zadar.
Veteran duo Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut secured France's decisive win, beating Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (9/7).
That gave the French an unassailable 3-0 lead, making Sunday's two reverse singles academic.
"This is the best tennis I've seen from my team in three years," beamed 1983 French Open winner Noah.
"I didn't have a beer for a week - I deserve my beer!"
Noah was full of praise for his victorious doubles duo.
"The way my guys played today - they were so good," Noah said. "Benneteau was probably the best player on the court and his attitude was unbelievable."
Croatia also led 2-0 going into Saturday's doubles.
In the opening rubber Borna Coric, world number 18, had justified his favourite's tag and defeated Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Croatia's top player and world number six Marin Cilic then defeated Frances Tiafoe, a Davis Cup debutant, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) to leave the hosts on the brink of the final.
But the 2005 champions still have work to do to seal their third final appearance after the USA's Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison won a deciding-set tie-break to end a thrilling comeback from Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic with a 7-5, 7-6 (8/6), 1-6, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5) victory after four hours and 43 minutes.
Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan is still confident that his team will secure victory in Sunday's first match which sees Cilic face Steve Johnson.
"Cilic is a big favourite … it will definitely not be easy to defeat him in front of a home crowd," Krajan told television channel HRT.
If Johnson causes an upset against Cilic, Coric will play against Tiafoe in a deciding rubber.
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