Hewitt's sad crew say they'll be back to win Davis Cup

Lleyton Hewitt's Australian team were despondent after their Davis Cup final loss but their spearhead Alex de Minaur believes they can win in Malaga next year.

LLEYTON HEWITT. Picture: Elsa/Getty Images

Australia's vanquished Davis Cup team sat in a gloomy line at their post-final press conference in Malaga, listening blank-eyed to the words of praise from their captain and looking as if they wished they could be anywhere else.

They'd been here before. Twelve months ago, to be precise, after losing to Canada in the 2022 final, and here were Lleyton Hewitt and his men again, undergoing another painful public inquest into their fall at the last hurdle, this time against Italy.

Yet when the players themselves were asked about whether they really believed they could come back to Spain and make it third time lucky next year, they all perked up, with playing captain Alex de Minaur leading a defiant chorus.

Defeat, he said, had stunk like hell and stung their pride, but "we are very, very close to winning this", added the man whose comprehensive defeat by the brilliant Jannik Sinner sealed the deal for Italy.

"Again, like I said last year in this same position, we'll be back. We'll get this. We've got a very, very strong future ahead of us."

You could certainly argue they're edging closer. Last year, both singles losses had been emphatic; on Sunday, felt Hewitt, the whole final may have swung on a couple of points here and there in Alexei Popyrin's agonising three-set defeat to Matteo Arnaldi.

Of course, it's academic now but what might have happened had Popyrin grabbed just one of those eight break-point opportunities in the final set, won that rubber and set up a doubles decider?

Frustratingly, we'll never know if Matt Ebden and Max Purcell would have beaten a Sinner-powered duo with the Cup on the line, but most observers fancied this superbly well-oiled doubles outfit would have been too good for the Italian golden boy and A.N.Other.

It was total frustration for Ebden - who was in last year's finals team but didn't play a rubber - and Purcell to be reduced to mere cheerleaders at the championship tie.

But asked if they could go one better next year now that the finals week has again been confirmed for Malaga, Ebden had no doubts.

"Yes, we can do it," he said. "I think we all really believed we could do it and I think we still do. I don't think anything's changed. Just didn't fall our way on the day."

De Minaur also noted that, since the controversial change in format which now has the Cup decided in a 'final eight' knock-out week at a 'neutral' venue, Australia are the only team to reach back-to-back finals.

"So we're showing a pretty good effort collectively," he said.

That team spirit was one of the most striking sights of the week, with other Australian players not even in the squad, like Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata, all delaying their flights home after a long year to support de Minaur and co at courtside.

"I love every single one of these guys and wouldn't want to be here with anyone else," said de Minaur.

The feeling appears to be mutual. Hewitt's greatest achievement as captain may have been infusing them all with that band-of-brothers mentality.

Whether that's enough to get them across the winning line remains to be seen.