Australia’s Jason Kubler has emerged as a surprise hero in the wake of Nick Kyrgios’ withdrawal from the United Cup, pulling off an incredible victory over Great Britain’s world number 27 Dan Evans.
The Australian, ranked 107th in the world, stunned his heavyweight opponent 6-3 7-6 (3) for Australia’s first win of the competition, before Sam Stosur and John Peers won a mixed doubles match to ensure the tie finished a respectable 3-2 in Great Britain’s favour.
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Australia lost its first two singles matches on Thursday, before Ajla Tomljanovic was sidelined on Friday with a left knee injury.
Her replacement, Maddison Inglis, fell 6-4 6-4 to Harriet Dart as Australia fell to 0-3 and defeat in the Group D meeting.
But Kubler turned the momentum with a gutsy win.
After a brilliant performance in the opening set, Kubler soon slumped to 0-5 in the second set. Showing remarkable determination and grit, the 29-year-old fought back to 5-5 before taking things to a tiebreak, where he surged to victory.
“It’s tough to give up when you’ve got Rusty (Lleyton Hewitt) on the bench and Demon (Alex de Minaur). They’ve got a never-say-die attitude,” Kubler said. “They have that never-say-die attitude and I hope I can re-create that in my matches.
Any time I’m down, especially in front of these guys, I have to give it my all.
“It’s not very often you turn 5-0 around so I’ll definitely remember this one!”
This time last year, Kubler was ranked just outside the top 200. A remarkable 2022 campaign included victory over Evans at Wimbledon, which unfortunately came without the usual ranking points. However, today’s victory over Evans has him poised to enter the top 100.
The injury-prone veteran is just focussing on staying fit.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to string together 18 months. It’s always been six months on, six months off,” he said.
In the final match of the tie, co-captain Stosur got back on the court alongside doubles specialist John Peers in a straight-sets win over Harriet Dart and Jonny O’Mara 7-6 (4), 6-4
The Australians converted four of 10 break point chances and used their greater doubles experience to win the crucial moments of a tight clash.
Stosur said: “I was super excited to get out here and play. It has been a big couple of days. Different sort of role for me (as co-captain) I have enjoyed it. I certainly enjoy being out on the court more.
“I had to try to pull my weight for the team and with Peersy it is easy. It is fun!”
KYRGIOS REIGNITES HEWITT FEUD
Despite his absence, Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios couldn’t resist reigniting his feud with team co-captain Lleyton Hewitt.
Taking to social media, Kyrgios responded to a tweet about Tomljanovic claiming he was thrown “under the bus” by Hewitt when he opted out of the United Cup event earlier this week citing injury.
“Mmm I wonder if (co-captain Sam) Stosur will throw her under the bus like our captain did for me ….. ‘hard to prepare when you don’t know what’s going on’,” he posted, complete with two hand over mouth emojis.
Kyrgios has used his time away from the United Cup to clap back at his critics, also retweeting a post from manager Daniel Horsfall suggesting the Australian is a victim of tall poppy syndrome.
Kyrgios withdrew from the United Cup with injury, prompting criticism from Australia’s United Cup co-captain Lleyton Hewitt over a lack of communication.
“I was in the same boat as all the other players yesterday,” Hewitt said.
“I didn’t know any more (than others). It was pretty tough for everyone. It was more probably the lack of communication and these guys not knowing.”
It’s not the first time Kyrgios and Hewitt have failed to see eye-to-eye, after the Davis Cup team captain revealed he was frustrated the nation’s top ranked male tennis star chose money over representing his country last month.
After once being Kyrgios’ mentor, the relationship between Hewitt and the controversial tennis icon has only soured in recent years.
Maddison Inglis stepped in to replace Tomljanovic against Harriet Dart, with the 24-year-old rising in prominence earlier this year after a breakout Australian Open campaign.
The local wildcard took down US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez in her run to third round, eventually defeated by six-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi.
Tomljanovic is still a chance of recovering in time to play for Australia in its second tie against Spain on Tuesday.
BRUTAL BLOW FOR CZECH UNDERDOG
There was also an injury blow earlier in the day for the Czech Republic, with Tomas Machac having to retire hurt after rolling his ankle in his match against Frances Tiafoe.
“What a shame, he was putting up a great fight,” Jim Courier said in commentary.
Tiafoe had taken the first set 6-4 but was down a break in the second, trailing 4-2.
Earlier in the day, Petra Kvitova had initially kept Czech Republic in it against the Americans with a 7-6(6), 6-4 win over World No. 3 Jessica Pegula.
Kvitova saved seven set points in the first set of the match on the way to victory, a crucial one given the Americans had already jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two wins on Day 1.
It meant that Tiafoe needed to defeat Machac to guarantee the Group C tie for the Americans, which he did albeit in unfortunate circumstances for his rival.
Elsewhere, Matteo Berrettini defeated Thiago Monteiro 6-4 7-6 to give Italy a 2-1 lead over Brazil.
The other earlier match of Day 2 saw Maria Sakkari defeat Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova 6-3, 6-2 in a dominant display where she won 84 per cent of her first serve points.
The victory also sealed the tie in Group A for Greece.
Originally published as ’Under the bus’: Kyrgios whacks Hewitt, unsung Aussie’s epic win at United Cup