It's all or nothing from now on in the Davis Cup Final 8.
What’s at stake?
Plenty! Australia versus Netherlands is the opening clash of the Davis Cup by Rakuten Final 8 in Malaga, so the spotlight awaits. The winners will face a semi-final showdown with either 2019 champions Spain or 2021 runners-up Croatia on Friday.
Now we’re at the Final 8 stage, there really are no second chances and whoever prevails between Australia and Netherlands will be just one victory away from the Davis Cup final and a shot at the title.
That would mean so much to both nations, who have the scent of victory in their nostrils after successful Davis Cup Finals Group Stage campaigns in September. However, it is fair to say that these teams are at different ends of the Davis Cup title-winning scale.
Australia is Davis Cup royalty having topped the tournament podium on a whopping 28 occasions – second only to 32-time winners USA, although it failed to make it past the Group Stage in last year's event.
Netherlands, on the other hand, has never lifted the trophy and is bidding to equal its best Davis Cup performance by reaching the semi-finals for only the second time. It reached the last four back in 2001.
Put all that together and there is much at stake.
Australia and Netherlands have never met before in the Davis Cup, so history is neither a psychological advantage nor a burden for either as they head into what promises to be an enticing battle.
As mentioned, Australia has a rich history in the competition although it is bidding to win its first Davis Cup title since 2003 when it overpowered Spain 3-1 in Melbourne.
It has been a long wait for silverware – interminable for some – and in the near-20 years that have elapsed since, semi-final finishes in 2006, 2015 and 2017 are the best the Australians could muster.
Former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt was a pivotal piece of Australia’s Davis Cup jigsaw back in 2003 and he is the only captain in Malaga who is also a former champion. The 41-year-old craves the holy grail once more.
Unsurprisingly, both nations enter the Final 8 in prime form. Australia defeated Belgium and France in September’s Group Stage before losing to Germany in a clash of two already-qualified teams.
Netherlands, meanwhile, boasts a perfect Davis Cup record this season having beaten Canada in March's Qualifiers before advancing to the Group Stage where Paul Haarhuis’ men outmanoeuvred Kazakhstan, Great Britain and USA.
Who to watch out for
Australia’s Alex de Minaur has won eight of the last nine Davis Cup singles matches he has contested, including victories against Belgium’s David Goffin and Benjamin Bonzi of France in September’s Group Stage.
The 23-year-old, who is currently ranked No.24 in the world, will spearhead Australia’s singles charge and will be a formidable opponent, particularly in national team colours, for any would-be challenger this week.
In Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden, Australia also has a tasty doubles pairing to rely on if needed, with the duo crowned Wimbledon doubles champions earlier this year. They also won two of the three matches they contested together in September.
The same could be said of Netherlands and the duo of Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop, who will provide a stern examination for anyone crossing their path in the coming days.
In singles, world No.35 Botic van de Zandschulp, who broke the top-100 for the first time in August 2021, won all three of his matches in September, downing some significant names along the way.
In the Group Stage, he dispatched Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik, Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Taylor Fritz of the United States, while Tallon Griekspoor is no shrinking violet when it comes to delivering for his nation.
In short, these would appear two evenly-matched teams.
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