Match Report

Dominant Dutch See Off Slovakia To Advance In Davis Cup

Finland defeats Argentina
February 05, 2023
Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop celebrate clinching the tie for the Netherlands on Sunday.
Henk Koster/ITF
Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop celebrate clinching the tie for the Netherlands on Sunday. By ATP Staff

Netherlands are through to the Davis Cup Finals for the third time after beating Slovakia 3-0 in Groningen.

The foundations for the victory were laid on Saturday when Tallon Griekspoor and Tim van Rijthoven both stepped up to deliver singles points and put the Netherlands 2-0 ahead.

Those wins left the Dutch team in an incredibly strong position, not least because they could rely on the doubles duo of World No. 1 Wesley Koolhof and No. 19 Matwe Middelkoop to lead them out on Sunday, and they didn’t disappoint, beating Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein 6-3 6-3 to clinch the tie.

Middelkoop and Koolhof - with a combined age of 72 - have now won four of their six Davis Cup doubles matches together, and they were a class apart throughout the one-hour, eight-minute clash.

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The pair struck the first blow by breaking in the third game of the match as Koolhof timed his move across the net to perfection and put away a simple volley. The Slovakians looked to respond immediately but Koolhof and Middelkoop saved three break points in the very next game to maintain their advantage.

They soon had the first set having broken both of their opponents’ serves and stayed solid behind their own deliveries.

Slovakia have never come from 0-2 down to win a Davis Cup tie and when Middelkoop fired a backhand down the line winner to go up an early break in the second set, an already mammoth task now looked impossible for the visitors.

The party had already started in the stands of the MartiniPlaza. The fans, dressed predominantly in all orange, were singing and dancing at the change of ends and making their presence felt. All that was left was for Koolhof and Middelkoop to finish the job, which they did emphatically.

“We have the older generation like me, the middle like Wesley, and the young generation. Plus Paul is such an experienced coach. He was a top doubles player and a top singles player and he passes that through the team,” Middelkoop said.”

They will now wait with intrigue to find out which teams they will face in the Group Stages, to be played after the US Open.

Slovakia will now compete in World Group I in September.

Whatever else he achieves in his career, the first weekend of February 2023 will always be a special one for Emil Ruusuvuori. The 23-year-old, already one of his nation’s highest-achieving players of all time, recorded three wins in three matches over two days to lead Finland to a 3-1 Qualifiers victory over Argentina and into the Davis Cup Finals for the first time.

With the tie level at 1-1 going in to the second day of play on Sunday, Ruusuvuori and Harri Heliovaara recorded a 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4 doubles victory against Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni in two hours and 47 minutes. Ruusuvuori then returned to court to take on Facundo Bagnis, winning 7-5 6-1 in an hour and 26 minutes to seal the tie for Finland.

The result means that Finland will compete at the highest level of the Davis Cup for the first time in their history, as well as ensuring that they will be one of two nations to make their Davis Cup Finals debut in September – alongside a Swiss team which completed an upset victory over Germany on Saturday.

“It’s an incredible feeling, to play this kind of tennis with this team in front of the home crowd,” Ruusuvuori said. “It was something very special, something that none of us will ever forget. It’s one of the top moments of my career.”

With the teams having split the first two matches of the tie on Saturday, the doubles match was likely to be crucial in determining the outcome of the tie. But if the four players who contested that clash felt any pressure, it rarely showed, as the quartet put on an entertaining display for the crowd at the Espoo Metro Areena.

The first set was tight throughout, but it was the Finns who started the quicker in the tiebreak, racing to a 5-1 lead and resisting the Argentine fightback to move ahead. While all four players had been strong on serve early on, the second set was much more open, with five breaks of serve – the most crucial of which came for Argentina with Heliovaara serving to stay in the set at 4-5.

But Finland came roaring back, winning five of the opening six games of the decided. Heliovaara was broken when attempting to serve out at 5-2, but Ruusuvuori got the job done two games later – to the joy of the vibrant home crowd, to whom Heliovaara paid tribute afterwards.

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“I think the home crowd gave us the energy in the third set, we really found an aggressive spirit,” he said. “We used the crowd to our advantage and just found a way to win. I think our captain said it well, this is our ‘living room’. This is where we want to be and that’s how I felt on the court.”

The win maintained the Finnish pair’s perfect record in Davis Cup matches, having now won all three clashes they have contested in the competition. It also extended Heliovaara’s personal Davis Cup doubles winning streak to 10 matches.

But more importantly in the context of this weekend’s tie, it gave Ruusuvuori momentum going into the reverse singles match. The World No. 43 would have expected to be facing Francisco Cerundolo – it would have been an intriguing match-up, with the Argentine ranked just 12 places higher than Ruusuvuori.

Instead, with Cerundolo sidelined due to a right hamstring injury, Ruusuvuori faced Bagnis, with the Argentinian 32-year-old making his first Davis Cup appearance. After an even start, the pair exchanged breaks of serve in the eighth and ninth games of the set, before Ruusuvuori got the crucial break with Bagnis serving to remain in the set at 5-6 down.

Sensing that the end was in sight, Ruusuvuori pressed home the advantage in the second set, reeling off five straight games from 1-1 to conclude a memorable weekend for Finnish tennis.

“It feels great, it’s huge,” captain Jarkko Nieminen, one of Finland’s all-time greats who now stewards the national team, said. “It’s something that Finnish men haven’t achieved before so obviously it’s very special and means a lot to us.”

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