Davis Cup legend Tony Roche believes a youthful Australian team can be title contenders as early as this year after Bernard Tomic inspired an impressive first-round win over heavyweights Czech Republic.
Australia, 28-time champions in the prestigious team competition, completed a 3-2 World Group win over the competition’s top seeds in Ostrava on Sunday to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in almost a decade.
In-form Tomic won his second singles match of the indoor hardcourt tie, defeating Czech number one Lukas Rosol 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to give Wally Masur’s side an unassailable 3-1 lead, before Sam Groth fell to Jan Mertl 6-3, 6-2 in a dead rubber.
Czech Republic, 2012 and 2013 champions, badly missed big guns Tomas Berdych (sitting out) and Radek Stepanek (injured), but Australia also had to overcome the absence of their highest ranked player, Nick Kyrgios (injured).
The teen sensation will return for a last-eight meeting with surprise packets Kazakhstan, which Australia will host in July – likely on a grass court.
And with Tomic adding to his impressive Davis Cup resume in Ostrava, teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis earning a surprise singles win on day one, and two-time winner and captain-in-waiting Lleyton Hewitt adding invaluable experience in his final playing campaign, Australian team coach Roche feels the nation’s glory days are about to be restored.
Roche, a four-time Davis Cup winner whose involvement in the competition stretches back half a century, likened the emergence of Australia’s new brigade to that which saw the likes of Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Hewitt lift the title in 1999.
“When John Newcombe and myself took over the team (in 1994), we had to start over from scratch and it did take us a few years to develop a good culture in the team,” said Roche, a coach with the current squad.
“But I think we’re at that point right now with these three guys.
“With Lleyton being there as the elder statesman, I can see us winning the Davis Cup in two or three years time, if not this year if we have a few matches at home.”
Tomic and world number 133 Kokkinakis gave Australia a 2-0 lead with day-one singles wins before Hewitt and Groth suffered a five-set doubles defeat on Saturday.
Kyrgios’s back injury left Tomic shouldering much of the responsibility in Ostrava and the world number 38 did not disappoint.
Unaffected by the big occasion and the incessant blaring of Czech drums and horns, the laid back 22-year-old improved his Davis Cup singles win-loss record to an impressive 14-2.
“It’s huge. I’ve never been in a position like this, playing to get into a Davis Cup quarter-final and it’s an amazing thing,” said Tomic, who has not dropped a set in his past three ties – all away from home.
Australia’s performance in the eastern Czech city ensured a winning start to Masur’s temporary reign as captain, with the retiring Hewitt to take the role next year.
Masur’s bold gamble to play 18-year-old Kokkinakis on day one paid off as the world number 133 came from two sets down to defeat Rosol, before Tomic beat Vesely in straight sets.
Kazakhstan beat Italy 3-2 in a thrilling tie in Astana on Sunday to reach the last eight.
Should Australia overcome a squad featuring top 100 players Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev, they could meet Andy Murray’s Great Britain or France in the semis.
Australia’s last appearance in the quarter-finals was in 2006 when they beat Belarus before losing to Argentina in the last four.