Australia’s hopes of making the ATP Cup semi-finals have all but evaporated in a comprehensive beating from defending champion Russia.
Cup debutant James Duckworth suffered a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 loss to lowly ranked Roman Safiullan before world No.2 and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev sealed the tie for Russia with a 6-4 6-2 win over Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur.
Tuesday night’s defeat leaves Australia needing a miracle to reach the last four.
Russia improved to 2-0 after beating France in its competition opener, while Australia is 1-1 having upset Italy on Sunday.
Russia only needs one more match win to confirm its progression to the semi-finals, meaning victory for Medvedev and Safiullan in the doubles rubber over Australia’s nominated pairing of Luke Saville and John Peers will suffice.
Should Australia salvage a doubles victory, Lleyton Hewitt’s team would then need to sweep France 3-0 on Thursday and hope Russia suffer a heavy loss to Italy.
Duckworth’s straight-sets loss to the 167th-ranked Safiullan was particularly deflating for the tournament hosts.
Coming off his best season yet in 2021, Duckworth was unable to reprise the tennis that has propelled the 29-year-old into the top 50 for the first time.
Duckworth squandered a big first-set lead as the world No.49’s first serve deserted him under pressure.
De Minaur always faced an uphill battle repeating his weekend heroics against Italy’s Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.
Seemingly stung by his shock three-set loss to Ugo Humbert in his own season-opener, Medvedev played brilliantly to see off de Minaur in 79 minutes.
In other Australian Open warm-up news, a fit and strong Thanasi Kokkinakis has blasted past compatriot John Millman.
The 25-year-old controlled the contest on debut at his home Adelaide International event, winning 6-4 6-3 on Tuesday.
Entering the year ranked No.171 in the world, Kokkinakis showed the benefits of a rare injury-free season, his serve on song and a razor-sharp backhand causing problems.