Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt believes the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals team environment has helped his players end a tough season spent on the road on a high as they prepare to face Croatia and Hungary in Turin.
“I know it’s been bloody tough for all the Australian boys, not to be able to go home throughout the year,” Hewitt said at the Group D captains’ press conference at the Pala Alpitour in Turin.
“In some ways I think this is what the guys needed – a change-up for them to have myself, Rochey [Tony Roche], Crabby [Jaymon Crabb] over here and having a bit of fun on the practice court, and really just focus on being mentally and physically ready to play on Thursday.”
Hewitt certainly sees it stacking up that way on court, with hopes that Aussie No. 1 Alex de Minaur can tap into the “unbelievable” form he produced at the 2019 Finals in Madrid, and competition for places in the side bringing out the best in his squad in training.
“Right now as it sits, I’d be very confident putting any of them on. I’m really happy with how they’re hitting the ball, and I’m pretty sure whichever person we put out there in the second singles and doubles will play well.
“Obviously, Croatia’s got a lot of experience in Davis Cup, and led by an extremely good player in [Marin] Cilic. But with that, I don’t think there’s a massive advantage at all. You’ve still got to go out there and perform. No matter what happens in the first match, the second match is just as important.”
Right now as it sits, I’d be very confident putting any of them on. I’m really happy with how they’re hitting the ball - whichever person we put out there in the second singles and doubles will play well
Vedran Martic can count himself lucky to be able to call on the current world No. 1 pairing and Olympic champions, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
“Of course, it helps,” said Martic, taking charge of Croatia at the Finals for the first time after leading the side for the 2020 Qualifiers. “They’ve played a lot of matches – yesterday I spoke with them, and they’ve played 75 matches during the year together. For us it’s a really good situation to have such a strong pairing in doubles, No. 1 in the world.”
Unfortunately for Croatia, hopes for Borna Coric’s return to competition for the first time since March appear to have been dashed as he continues his lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery in May.
“He is still having problems with the shoulder, so probably I need to replace him, and another player will be on the team,” Martic said.
Mektic and Pavic are the only players in Group D who contested last week’s ATP Finals at the Pala Alpitour, but while the surroundings will feel familiar, the court itself has changed since being re-laid for the Davis Cup Finals.
“I’d say it’s completely different from what I’d seen on TV and the guys’ comments from the ATP Finals,” said Hewitt, whose players got their first taste of the court conditions on Tuesday. “I would say the court is on the slower side – they resurfaced it yesterday.”
What is success for us? It depends how the other teams play, but in Davis Cup you never know. It’s a great experience for us, and we’re happy to be here
Like Croatia, Hungary look set to lose their No. 2 singles player to injury, with captain Gabor Koves conceding that Atilla Balazs has not recovered from the foot injury that has wiped out his season.
“Most likely he’s not going to play in the second singles spot.” Koves said. “But we have a couple of young guys who are moving up in the rankings. They are excited to show their game.”
Up against Australia, 28-time winners of the competition, and Croatia, who were crowned Davis Cup champions as recently as 2018, Hungary are in esteemed company in Group D. But with world No. 40 Marton Fucsovics anchoring the side and victories over Russian Tennis Federation and Belgium in recent years, Koves gives his squad a fighting chance in Turin.
“What is success for us? It depends how the other teams play, and what kind of tennis they put on the court, but in Davis Cup you never know,” he said. “If we win a couple of matches that will be great; if not, we’ll hold our heads high. It’s a great experience for us, and we’re happy to be here.”
Speaking of experience, Lleyton isn’t the only Hewitt in Turin this week. Cruz Hewitt is embedded with the squad in Turin, though when describing his son’s official duties, Hewitt Sr said: “He's just picking up a lot of balls.
“He’s fortunate that he’s got good role models, especially a guy like Alex [de Minaur] and Johnny Millman, the way he goes about his tennis and training. It’s important for any young Australian players to aspire to see how those guys train and the discipline that comes with it.”