Unheralded tennis player Jason Kubler has led Australia to a narrow win over Spain and a new career high ranking thanks to Nick Kyrgios pulling out of the United Cup.
The first reserve, Kubler was called in to replace Kyrgios at the last minute and responded by winning both his singles matches – against Britain’s Dan Evans then Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas.
Sam Stosur and John Peers then teamed up to win the decisive mixed doubles match to secure a 3-2 win for the Aussies over Spain in their round robin match of the mixed team event.
Kubler’s singles wins, both against higher ranked opponents, will lift him to around 81st in the world when the rankings are updated next week, giving him an automatic place in the Australian Open, starting January 16.
Kubler messaged Kyrgios to thank him for the chance to play and wished him a quick recovery.
“He could have played, and he could have done unbelievably well, like I know we all think he can,” Kubler said.
“Fortunately he gave me the opportunity to play, and I have sort of taken it with both hands and run with it.”
Plagued by injuries during his career, the luckless Kubler has never really had the chance to show just how good he is until only recently getting healthy.
He gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of when he came through the qualifiers to make the final 16 at Wimbledon last year but didn’t get the ranking points he deserved because no points were awarded after Russian players were banned by the All-England club.
Currently ranked 107, his lifetime best is 91 – which he reached in 2018 – but he is forecast to eclipse that after this week.
“After my Wimbledon result, there were a lot of people saying that my ranking should be higher but the truth is it‘s not so I was still around 100,” Kubler said.
“I feel like with these two matches, then luckily the ATP points I get with it almost puts me into that position where my ranking is high enough.”
Importantly, Kubler’s win also helped Australia finish the United Cup with a consolation 3-2 win over Spain in Sydney on Tuesday.
Neither team made the playoffs with Britain finishing top of their Group but with Kubler winning and Alex De Minaur beating Rafa Nadal on Monday, the tie came down to the deciding mixed doubles rubber – which Stosur and Peers won in straight sets.
“It was so much fun and to get across the line and win the tie is just amazing,” Stosur said.
Deafening silence from Hewitt over Kyrgios feud
Australian tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt is refusing to weigh in on the latest public feud with Nick Kyrgios.
Accused by Kyrgios of “throwing him under the boss” after he questioned his lack of communication around his withdrawal from the Australian team at the United Cup, Hewitt resisted the temptation to fire back.
Instead, the Australian co-captain kept his lips sealed, telling reporters: “I’m not going to go into it tonight.”
Pressed on whether he would contact Kyrgios in the near future to clear the air, Hewitt again kept a wide berth, saying he didn’t want to divert attention from Alex de Minaur’s stunning upset win over Spain’s Rafa Nadal.
“This is Alex’s night,” Hewitt said.
It’s no secret that Hewitt and Kyrgios have not always seen eye to eye, especially when it comes to representing Australia.
When he was a player, Hewitt always put his country first, and continues to after being appointed captain of the Australian Davis Cup and United Cup teams.
While exercising great restraint around Kyrgios, Hewitt was more animated when he was courtside to witness De Minaur breakthrough for his first win over Nadal on Monday night, yelling encouragement from the first point to the last
“Obviously Alex has so much respect for Rafa,” Hewitt said.
“He’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, ever to play the game. So it’s a daunting thing for anybody to go out there and play against those players.
“Alex has been fortunate, he‘s done it a few times now. Three years ago he got the same opportunity and it went awfully close that night as well.
“For him to actually have the belief in closing it out, that‘s the confidence that he’s going to take from this to be able to do it against those best players in the world, and Rafa obviously is the defending champion going into Melbourne in a week’s time.
“He (De Minaur) deserves to be confident and really happy with his performance.
‘I think he‘s gonna get a lot of confidence from it moving forward, not just this summer but also throughout the year.”
De Minaur was not asked about the public spat between his captain and teammate but made it clear he was all-in whenever he gets the chance to play for his country.
“It‘s a big win for myself, one that I really needed. I’m gonna cherish and use, take all the confidence from this and be able to hopefully take it to have a good Aussie summer,” he said.
“It’s still pretty raw, I would say. Look, I’m very happy. I’m sure over the next coming days I’ll be able to let it really settle. But I also don’t want to dwell on it.
“It’s an unbelievable win, and it’s going to do great things for myself and my confidence and my form going into the Australian Open.
“But, still the big picture is the Australian Open. I‘ll get back on the training court and work on a couple things that I could have done better. You know, hopefully get to the Australian Open in the best possible form to go out there and have a couple weeks of good tennis there.”
Clean sweep: US smash Germany
Jessica Pegula and Frances Tiafoe teamed up to win twice in one day to complete a 5-0 sweep for the United States over Germany in the United Cup on Tuesday.
Pegula, ranked third in the women’ world rankings, beat Germany’s Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-2 to give the Americans an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Group C tie after Taylor Fritz and Madison Keys won their singles matches on Monday.
Tiafoe then beat Oscar Otte 7-5 6-4 before joining forces with Pegula in the mixed doubles rubber, defeating Siegemund and Daniel Altmaier in a deciding super tiebreak 6-7 6-4 10-7.
As Group C winners, the Americans advanced to Wednesday’s Sydney “city final” against Britain, who topped the group including Australia and Spain.
With nothing to play for, the Aussies and Spain will finish their tie later on Tuesday with Olivia Godecki replacing Zoe Hives in the women’s singles.
“Super exciting. We definitely came to play,” Pegula said.
“We showed up, we took care of our matches, not letting things get too crazy. Still want to get as many points as we can.”
Matteo’s revenge as Italy advances
Italy’s Matteo Berrettini has shocked world No.3 Casper Ruud at the United Cup in Brisbane to secure his country victory and a spot in the City finals.
Berrettini, the world No.16, fired down 10 aces on his way to a 6-4 6-4 victory at Pat Rafter Arena to give Italy an unassailable 3-0 lead in the clash with Norway.
Berrettini had lost to Ruud in the quarter-finals of the US Open last year but the Italian will be one of the men to beat at the Australian Open in Melbourne later this month after he reached the semi-finals last year before losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
Italy, with their victories over Brazil and now Norway, have booked a spot in the Brisbane city final on Wednesday against the winner of Group B.
The Group B battle will go down to the wire later on Tuesday with Poland and Switzerland currently locked at 1-all with whoever wins set to qualify for the City final.
Teams event gets Iga’s tick of approval
Iga Swiatek has praised the value of the teams format and guaranteed matches available at the United Cup after helping push Poland closer to a Group B win in Brisbane.
Swiatek beat Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in just over two hours on Pat Rafter Arena on Monday night to give Poland a 1-0 lead in the tie, an advantage that was swiftly erased by Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler with the teams level heading into day two.
While the format of the United Cup – a competition including 18 teams, each with four singles players and a mixed doubles pair – has been criticized in some quarters for leading to obscure fixtures that are not as crowd pleasing as the previous Brisbane International, fans certainly got their money’s worth on Monday night when the world no.1 Pole took on Bencic.
The Swiss is currently ranked 12 in the world but has been as high as no.4 and showed that sort of form when the pair traded vicious groundstrokes in a high-quality encounter.
As a season-starting event, the United Cup format does guarantee players at least two singles matches, with Group winners and then city finalists gaining more time on court in pursuit of the inaugural trophy.
“Well, I’m here, so that’s the answer,” Swiatek said when asked if the United Cup format, which also includes mixed doubles as players represent their countries in the team event, was preferable to a knockout tournament.
“I prefer it for sure. I feel like all these (team) events when they were playing in different systems they’re making, there’s a huge difference for the fans as well, so it’s nice to have that and I just think it’s a little bit more fun.
“It breaks the routine a little bit and that’s why I wanted to try it and for sure, having these two matches guaranteed was for sure an advantage when we’re making decisions.”
The match ticked the box in terms of fun, with Pat Rafter Arena packed, almost to the rafters with Polish fans who regularly chanted the world no.1’s name.
But it also hit the spot as an Australian Open warm-up.
“It’s really valuable because I was wanting to have my engines on and I felt like (playing Bencic) was the kind of match where I really had to be on point in terms of my mind game and also tennis and physically,” she said.
“So I’m pretty happy that I had a match like that.”
The Pole praised Australia’s former world no.1 Ash Barty last week, saying she hoped to meet the Queenslander while in Brisbane.
That has not yet happened, with Swiatek prioritising time with her teammates while in Brisbane, with the United Cup format a certain winner with players, if not all fans.
She still hopes to meet up with Barty at some stage in the Australian summer though and given her form, she looks like she’ll be in for an extended run in Melbourne where she will be aiming to pick up her fourth grand slam title and first Australian Open.
Group B will be decided by the results of tonight’s singles matches between Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) and Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) and Jil Teichmann (Switzerland) and Magda Linette (Poland), with the possibility of the tie coming down to the fifth rubber, the mixed doubles – likely to be between Wawrinka and Belinda Bencic against Hurkacz and Swiatek.
Originally published as United Cup: Follow all the news and results from new teams event