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What a Davis Cup full of surprises might have to say about the 2024 Grand Slam circuit

24 November, 2023
Davis Cup Finals

What a Davis Cup full of surprises might have to say about the 2024 Grand Slam circuit

As Alex de Minaur dug deep to pull off a stirring comeback victory over Jiri Lehecka at the Davis Cup Finals, it served as a timely reminder that the demonstrative Australian can no longer be viewed as an emerging force in men’s tennis.

The 23-year-old has been a mainstay in the world’s top 30 for over three years now and, although Grand Slam success has proved elusive, he has developed into his nation’s undisputed top male player while compiling an imposing 16-7 record in Davis Cup singles rubbers.

De Minaur’s defiant win resurrected Australia’s hopes of progression in a competition he holds dear to his heart after losses by teammates Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell left captain Lleyton Hewitt’s side on the cusp of elimination.

It highlighted why the Sydneysider shapes as the perfect leader for an Australian squad continuing a long-overdue transition in the post-Hewitt era.

While the skipper’s considerable passion for the Davis Cup remains a significant driving force behind Australia’s ongoing desire for success, changes are afoot in the make-up of the team itself.

De Minaur has assumed greater responsibility on his shoulders, while the rise of emerging weapons like Purcell and exciting teenager Rinky Hijikata point to a promising future for Aussie tennis on the global stage.

The nation’s hopeful return to Davis Cup glory has coincided with a changing of the guard in the upper echelon of the sport itself in 2022 as the extraordinary eras of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic inch toward a conclusion.

It has created opportunities for the next generation of stars like recently crowned ATP Finals champion Holger Rune and fluid Italian Jannik Sinner to create their own legacy in a brave new world devoid of the long-standing domination of the Big Three.

Sinner’s straight sets dismissal of a battle-weary Djokovic in Turin last week accentuated the current state of flux and the sense 2023 could herald unprecedented possibilities at the Grand Slams for those ready to seize it.

The budding Italian is backed to eventually become a major winner and his nation’s hopes of clinching a first Davis Cup crown since 1976 will rest heavily on the racket of their 21-year-old phenom when competitive action resumes on Friday morning.

Australia’s title aspirations will not hinge quite so greatly on one man but in de Minaur, it boasts a spearhead entering his prime years capable of inspiring teammates to collectively push for the trophy.

His comeback victory over Lehecka highlighted the immense heart he possesses.

It was reminiscent of a win Hewitt himself conjured from two sets and 3-5 down in a 2003 semi-final that propelled Australia to their 28th and last Davis Cup triumph.

And just as the baton was passed from iconic Australians like Pat Rafter and Pat Cash onto Hewitt at the turn of the century, de Minaur now represents Australian tennis’ next flag-bearer on the global stage alongside emerging compatriots like Purcell and Hijikata.

The Davis Cup may have been revamped and rebranded since Australia’s 2003 victory but Hewitt’s latest crop have already shown the brand of courageous tennis synonymous with the nation’s grand history in a prestigious team competition still cherished Down Under.

In de Minaur, it has an on-court leader Made in Australia and ready to spearhead another challenge by taking down the sport’s next generation.

With the old guard moving on in both the Davis Cup and men’s tennis itself, opportunity knocks loud for the likes of de Minaur to finally end two lengthy title droughts by delivering silverware over the next fortnight.

But the shifting landscape also signals tantalising possibilities on the horizon at next year’s Grand Slams too.

Nadal’s shock second round loss at the US Open felt like a seminal moment in the sport and with Federer retired, the days of the Big Three hoarding tennis’ biggest titles appear over.

The sight of emerging force Rune hoisting the ATP Finals trophy aloft signals the dawning of a new era replete with promise for Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime and the wealth of other contenders waiting patiently in the wings.

And after de Minaur so defiantly turned around Australia’s Davis Cup tie with his back against the wall, don’t discount the Sydneysider translating such fighting spirit into a major breakthrough of his own on one of the sport’s grandest stages in seasons to come.

The Davis Cup semi-finals offer clues the next generation may be about to make tennis their own in 2024 – and a changing of the guard for the ages appears closer than ever.

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