Celebrating the spirit that helped Australia claim Davis Cup victory over Hungary, Lleyton Hewitt noted how team success can translate to individual highs.
In the hours after they’d completed a come-from-behind win over Hungary in the Davis Cup qualifier, spirits were understandably high among Australian team members.
After the visiting nation had played the match of their lives to claim an upset win in the doubles, Alex de Minaur had levelled the tie with victory over Marton Fucsovics.
Thanasi Kokkinakis subsequently defeated Zsombor Piros in the live fifth rubber to complete an overall victory for his nation.
But this was no time for individual accolades, team captain Lleyton Hewitt instead pointing to the Australians’ camaraderie as the most critical element of their victory.
“I’ve never been part of a Davis Cup tie that’s easy,” said the 41-year-old, who contested a record 43 ties for Australia as a player.
“You always expect twists and turns at different times. And that’s certainly what the last two days has thrown at us yet again, and you’ve got to be able to deal with it and we did that.”
“I’m just really proud of the boys’ efforts. Everyone in the team and the squad, they came and prepared and did absolutely everything that we asked of them. The passion and team spirit were second to none, and it really showed.
“Even when we were 2-1 down, you know, in the locker room the belief that that everyone had that we could still find a way to turn it around.”
De Minaur and Kokkinakis, who’d brilliantly staged that turnaround, echoed Hewitt’s sentiments.
“I think rather than you know, individual results, Davis Cup is much more than that. It’s about this team,” said De Minaur, acknowledging the sidelines support that saw him extend his Davis Cup record to seven wins and four losses across the nine ties he’s contested.
“This group of guys that made it a priority to fly here and be here and, you know, it’s an incredible rich history and tradition that (the) Australian Davis Cup team has and every one of the boys here they know what it means and they make it a priority,” said De Minaur.
“We’re trying to build something important, something meaningful, and everyone out here gets it, you know, we have each other’s backs every step of the way and this was a team win more than anything.”
After adding to a career-best season that started with a first singles triumph in Adelaide, Kokkinakis explained the unique high of a team effort.
“It’s just very different playing in a team atmosphere, you’re playing for more than yourself. It’s not just sort of personal accolades,” he related, explaining that Australian No.1 De Minaur set a benchmark among team members.
“But everyone, all week, win or loss, I feel like we just got along as a group really well,” Kokkinakis added.
“It feels like you’ve got the whole country backing and supporting you… it’s sick” 🤙@TKokkinakis soaks in a special moment for the Aussie team#DavisCup #byRakuten | @TennisAustralia pic.twitter.com/FiwNejPyLN
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) March 5, 2022
Hewitt explained how the team spirit extends from the most experienced team members to the youngest ones.
“The boys speak about the team camaraderie, but, you know, it’s not just me,” said Hewitt, noting the unique influence of veteran team coach Tony Roche.
“Rochey is one of the biggest drivers of it and, you know, I couldn’t be doing what I try and do with these guys without Rochey. And we’re just so lucky to have someone like him that wants to still be a part of it, because, in my opinion, is the best coach in the world and he still is.”
“And the intensity that he can bring to any practice court. I don’t care who’s on the court, whether it’s Alex, Thanasi, these guys, or our orange boys – at any stage this week, the intensity goes through the roof.
“We’re just very fortunate that we’ve got him as part of our team and our tennis community and I’m lucky to have him as a mate.”
Charlie Camus and Edward Winter, the orange boys for Australia in Sydney this weekend, could look to Hewitt’s example in gauging the value of their first Davis Cup experience.
The Australian captain reflected on joining the team for Australia’s World Group first round against defending champions Sydney in 1997, when Pat Rafter famously recovered from a two-sets deficit to defeat Cedric Pioline.
It proved a career turning point for Rafter, the Australian going on to win the first of two US Open titles later that season. “I just wanted to play Davis Cup forever from that day,” Hewitt smiled.
With consecutive ATP Masters 1000 events set to start at Indian Wells and Miami from later this week, the team captain recognises how current Australian team members, including Alexei Popyrin, can translate their Davis Cup experiences to individual tournaments.
“This has to be a confidence-building for these guys and, you know, even Alexei, he could have easily played this week as well. He came back and did absolutely everything we asked of him but when he leaves this tie, we want him to be a better player than when he arrived,” said Hewitt.
“We try and do hard work on the practice court, and we want them to go out and have success now and we feel like these guys are due and they deserve that and they’ve put in the hard work.”