Australia secures last-ditch United Cup quarterfinal berth
Storm Hunter and Matt Ebden have sealed Australia's victory over Team USA following Alex de Minaur's earlier triumph on Monday night.
Australia has pulled off a stunning 2-1 triumph to bundle out a top-10 stacked Team USA and assure the host nation of a place in the United Cup quarterfinals.
The task at hand against the defending champions was no mean feat given Lleyton Hewitt’s charges had fallen to Great Britain in their opening clash.
Playing before friends and family, West Australians Storm Hunter and Matt Ebden kept their unbeaten Perth partnership intact as they booked the team’s berth 6-3 6-1 over Pegula and Rajeev Ram.
Alex de Minaur joked it was a “new year, new me” after he earlier put Australia in the driver’s seat with a commanding 6-4 6-2 victory over world No.10 Taylor Fritz, before world No.5 Jessica Pegula levelled the showdown 7-6(6) 6-3 over Ajla Tomljanovic.
“Obviously, a lot of pressure in that moment, and Matty and I just went out and did our thing,” Hunter said. “Yeah, we played a great match. It wasn’t till the end that we realised we qualified… To come out today, Demon played unreal.
“I think he really set the tone for the team, straightaway from the first point he was on. That was an unbelievable effort to watch. Then Ajla also played a great match and had a lot of opportunities.”
The scenario to progress was clear heading into the deciding mixed doubles.
With Great Britain removed from the equation, Australia needed to win in straight sets to advance, while the US needed to land just one set.
“It’s super up there, super special. You can’t almost compare it to anything like Davis Cups, like these team comps that we play for Australia, especially here at home, being West Aussies,” Ebden said.
“For me it’s super exciting, way up there. Some of those great memories, I can’t compare it to anything. It’s up there on its own.”
Ranked just two places below Fritz, De Minaur cut a markedly contrasting figure on court to that of Friday night, when he fell to Cameron Norrie in three sets.
It was a dramatic improvement in form and took his record against the American to 5-3.
“I do know that I’m capable of this level,” De Minaur said. “So, it’s great to bring it out in a do-or-die match where we kind of needed a scenario where I potentially needed to win in straight sets.
“So, I was happy that I could bring the level, play the style of tennis I wanted to. And obviously it’s definitely up there with probably the top-five best matches I’ve played.”
Left to rue a slow start against 18th-ranked Norrie, there were no such problems on Monday night as De Minaur found his mark from the off.
Riding an aggressive game plan, the 24-year-old cleverly worked his slice backhand and deft touch at net to frustrate his opponent throughout.
He was never ceded after securing early breaks in both sets.
“I started really well and Taylor didn’t start great, and then all of a sudden (he’s) on the back foot,” he said. “Yeah, but I think it was just a completely different mindset.
“I was playing positive tennis from the get-go. I didn’t have a glimpse of any negativity throughout the whole match. I’m very proud of that.”
While unable to clinch the win in a one-hour, 52-minute affair, Tomljanovic was upbeat about a vastly improved showing following her opening loss to Katie Boulter.
Pegula was forced to fend off three opening set points against the 30-year-old, who continued her comeback having spent most of 2023 sidelined due to injuries.
“The nerves were still there, but I think that I had to really think about what went wrong on Friday and make sure that I don’t get in a similar situation where it takes me a set and a half to find my game… I am happy that I just put up a better-quality match today, because I was a little bit down the last two days,” Tomljanovic said.
“You can feel when it’s good quality against someone that highly ranked. And the thing is, she always puts up quality, it never dips lower than her standard, which is a good indication for me that, you know, I can still play a good level. Just need to kind of clean it up a little bit more.”
Australia will next play on Wednesday night against either a Novak Djokovic-led Serbia or China.