Stan Wawrinka rolled back the years to fire Switzerland into the group stage of the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals for the first time as the visitors completed a stunning 3-2 turnaround triumph against Germany in Trier.
The Germans had looked destined to win the 2023 Qualifier tie when Tim Puetz and Andreas Mies gave the hosts a 2-1 lead earlier on Saturday after beating Wawrinka and Dominic Stricker in the doubles, with world No. 14 Alexander Zverev waiting in the wings to polish off the tie.
But Swiss No. 1 Marc-Andrea Huesler tore up the script, perfectly executing his gameplan to stun Zverev in straight sets and give 37-year-old Wawrinka — a 2014 Davis Cup champion — the chance to secure Switzerland's progress to the group stage in September.
“I'm happy I won one point and the last one was the most important,” said Wawrinka. “[Marc] played super well against Zverev. He put us back in the tie after losing the doubles.”
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Though Wawrinka will rightly earn the plaudits for his decisive victory, it was a true team effort in Trier — with Huesler adding two crucial singles wins and 20-year-old Stricker, the boys' singles champion at 2020 Roland Garros, underlining his potential, albeit in defeat, alongside Wawrinka in the doubles.
The left-handed Stricker was impressive throughout their narrow 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4 doubles loss, particularly on his powerful forehand flank, and with 21-year-old Leandro Riedi also in the squad, the Swiss signs are positive for the years to come.
“We have a great team,” said Wawrinka. “They've been building this team for the last few years. I was happy to come back if they need me to help. I'm the oldest by far, but we had a great week. We were really helping each other — it was a great week for us.”
Zverev, after beating Wawrinka on Friday, could not produced a similar display against Huesler. The German was given few opportunities by the world No. 53, who attacked his serve — particularly the second — throughout the fourth rubber and barely relinquished his grip during a 6-2 7-6(3) triumph.
“He played extremely well,” conceded Zverev. “He played very aggressive, didn't let me go into the rallies. I think it was also a very tactical move by him not to really go into rallies with me.”
Huesler's victory was his fourth over a Top 20 player –=— adding to his ATP scalps of then world No. 12 Fabio Fognini at Kitzbuhel in 2020, and Pablo Carreno Busta (Sofia) and Jannik Sinner (Paris) in 2022.
“I'm very happy,” admitted Huesler. “I played a great match from A to Z. I had a clear gameplan that I was following. At the end I was very nervous but I was really happy with the way I was able to close it out.”
Like Wawrinka, Huesler praised his teammates and, despite their unexpected victory, believes that the Swiss deserve their place back at the competition's top table.
“We have a couple of young guys who are improving every year,” he said. “That's why we're here where we are. We've really worked our way up to this stage.
Czech Republic In Command In Portugal
Jiri Lehecka and Tomas Machac notched hard-earned singles victories to put the Czech Republic in a commanding position after Day 1 of its Davis Cup Qualifier against Portugal in Maia.
The 21-year-old Lehecka and 22-year-old Machac both handled a vibrant atmosphere well in northern Portugal, where Nuno Borges and then Joao Sousa battled well but were ultimately unable to get the home team on the board on Saturday.
Lehecka took to the clay fresh from a run to his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. The World No. 39 showed some early rust and was broken serving for the first set at 5-3 against Borges. He kept his composure to break again immediately to claim the opener, however, and another late break in the 10th game of the second set was enough to clinch a 6-4, 6-4 triumph in 97 minutes.
“For me, it was very important to try to play a little bit differently than I played in Australia, because of course it's clay [and] it's a bit colder,” said Lehecka, when asked about how he had adapted to the conditions.
“So I would say that is one of the reasons I wasn't able to find a perfect rhythm in the first and also in the second set.“There were plenty of moments where I just played the way I should play on hard courts, but not here on the clay. For me, I was trying to focus on my serve and in all I would say how I played from the baseline was pretty fine. Sometimes when I had a break point, I was a little too passive, and also he played very good on break points.”
Following Lehecka onto court was Machac, who added to his impressive Davis Cup history by downing the four-time ATP Tour titlist Sousa 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2. Machac upset France's Richard Gasquet and Great Britain's Daniel Evans at the 2021 Davis Cup Finals, and he raised his game for his country once again on Saturday to bring the Czechs within one rubber of a spot in the group stage at the 2023 Davis Cup Finals.
The World No. 122 Machac struck 39 winners to Sousa's 23 and converted five of 15 break points to improve his Davis Cup singles record to 4-1. The win also maintained his country's perfect record against Portugal, with the three-time champion Czech Republic now having won all 12 rubbers between the two nations.
Coric and Gojo Put Croatia On Brink Of Finals Spot
Borna Coric and Borna Gojo gave Croatia the perfect start to their Qualifier with Austria after both won their opening day encounters in straight sets on home soil in Rijeka.
Coric fended off a spirited Dennis Novak 6-3, 7-5 in just shy of two hours in the opening match of the day, before World No. 121 Gojo downed Dominic Thiem 6-3, 7-6(2) in another assured Davis Cup display for his country.
Their wins mean Croatia can seal their spot in the group stages of the Davis Cup Finals for a fourth time in tomorrow's doubles, when Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic take on Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler.
“It was a really, really good match,” reflected Coric after setting the hosts on their way. “I was happy with my performance. In the last few months, I haven't been serving at my best and today I felt like I was serving very good.”
For Gojo, victory over World No. 99 Thiem marked his eighth Top 100 win – with five of those coming for his country in Davis Cup.
“It was a good win for me to bring a point,” said the 24-year-old. “It's a relief, mentally, when you go into the match being up 1-0 – it puts a little bit more pressure on [your opponent], probably, so thank you to Borna Coric – he's a great friend and a great player.
“We're both very happy with this score after today. Tomorrow is a new day, we're not finished, we need to win three points to qualify, so we're focussed on that.”
This story features contributions from DavisCup.com