Match Report

Slovakia qualifies for Davis Cup Finals for first time, Netherlands beats Switzerland

Finland defeats Portugal 3-0, France lead Chinese Taipei 2-0 on Day 1
February 03, 2024
Lukas Klein and Igor Zelenay seal victory for Slovkia.
Getty Images/ITF
Lukas Klein and Igor Zelenay seal victory for Slovkia. By ITF Staff

Slovakia qualified for the Davis Cup Finals for the first time on Saturday when Lukas Klein and Igor Zelenay clinched the decisive point in its qualifying tie against Serbia.

With Slovakia entering Day 2 of the tie in Serbia holding a 2-0 lead, Klein and Zelenay finished the job, moving past Nikola Cacic and Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6(4), 6-3 to give Slovakia an unassailable 3-0 lead against last year’s semi-finalists.

"We made it finally," Zelenay said. "Too many years we didn't qualify, but finally. I was a little bit nervous because I wanted to win so much. I think we played well and Lukas was playing really well and together we have been playing really well. We made an important point for Slovakia and I am really happy. I want to enjoy it now."

In front of a lively crowd, Klein and Zelenay rallied from a break down in the first set, before they closed the net well throughout the second set to triumph after one hour and 38 minutes. They fired 31 winners and won 76 per cent (28/37) of their first-serve points.

"I am very happy we managed to win as a team, that is the important part," said Klein, who also earned a victory in singles on Friday. "It doesn't matter who won the three points. I am happy that we have qualified."

Before this year, Slovakia had suffered four consecutive losses at the Qualifiers stage.

On Friday, Alex Molcan rallied past Dusan Lajovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 to give Slovakia a commanding 2-0 lead.

The 26-year-old Molcan recovered from a slow start by finding more rhythm on his serve, dropping just one point behind his first delivery in the deciding set, sealing the match after one hour, 55 minutes.

”I’m happy that we were able to win two matches today. We knew it was going to be tough against Serbians in their home nation,” Molcan said. “I was a little bit nervous in the first set. I was [hitting] very short. I just was trying to hit the ball big and I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.

“In the second set, I started to hit the ball deep in the court and that helped me a lot. Then, I got the momentum until the end of the match, so I’m really happy that I could win. I’m also happy that Lukas won. I’m proud of our team today and we will try to make one more point tomorrow.”

Molcan’s countryman Klein ensured a fast start for his home country earlier on Friday, when he moved past Serbian Kecmanovic 7-6(2), 6-2.

Competing on indoor clay, Klein overpowered Kecmanovic from the baseline and was strong on return, breaking the World No. 41’s serve four times en route to a 90-minute triumph. Klein, who fell in a fifth-set tie-break to Alexander Zverev in the second round at last month’s Australian Open, earned his first Davis Cup rubber victory.

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Netherlands claws past Switzerland in thriller
Ice-cool Botic van de Zandschulp was the Netherlands hero as he dispatched Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler in a winner-takes-all clash to send his nation to the 2024 Davis Cup Finals.

Van de Zandschulp prevailed 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 in a match which epitomised the entire tie: thrilling, topsy-turvy, hugely competitive – eight of the 11 sets contested required tie-breaks – and utterly absorbing. In short, a tie which sums up Davis Cup.

It was harsh on Switzerland who contributed so much to this encounter, but Netherlands will take their place at the Davis Cup Finals for the fourth time and bid to better their quarter-final finishes of the previous two years.

Netherlands owe much to Van de Zandschulp but also the irrepressible Tallon Griekspoor who ensured the showdown went down to the wire by defeating man of the moment Leandro Riedi and levelling matters at 2-2. It was Griekspoor’s second singles win of the tie.

Haarlem-born Griekspoor dispatched Riedi 7-6(6) 7-6(3) after Switzerland had been within touching distance of the 2024 Finals following victory for Riedi and Huesler over Netherlands duo Wesley Koolhof and Jean-Julien Rojer in the doubles.

The tie was finely balanced at 1-1 heading into the second day after each nation chalked up a singles victory on Friday, with world No. 29 Griekspoor triumphing for the Netherlands and Riedi replying for the Swiss.

The opening match on day two saw doubles take centre stage and Swiss captain Severin Luthi opted to shuffle his pack, replacing the originally selected Alexander Ritschard and Jerome Kym with Riedi and Huesler.

The move paid dividends as Riedi and Huesler triumphed 7-6(4) 7-6(2), meaning Switzerland were just a match-win away from securing their place in September’s Finals Group Stage, which will be contested across four different venues.

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Finland flys into Davis Cup Finals
Finland’s fairytale in the Davis Cup continued as they eased past Portugal 3-0 in their 2024 Qualifier in Turku to book their place in September’s Finals Group Stage for the second straight year.

Carrying a 2-0 lead into Saturday, Emil Ruusuvuori and Harri Heliovaara combined in the doubles to beat Nuno Borges and Francisco Cabral 6-4 7-6(6) and seal the tie.

It capped a perfect couple of days for the Finns: six sets played, six sets won.

“It can’t feel better than this”, said Heliovaara. “What a performance from the whole team. You can’t ask for more. I play for these emotions and the crowd gives me them, so it’s just a special feeling.”

While there was never any jeopardy in Friday’s singles matches, the doubles was a much closer affair.

The key moment in the opening set came right at the end as Heliovaara and Ruusuvuori both caught hold of some sweet returns to grab the crucial break.

In the second set, Cabral and Borges did well to fend off a couple of match points and take it to a tiebreak, which turned into a thriller. Finland took the lead when Ruusuvuori drove a backhand pass through the middle, splitting Borges and Cabral perfectly at the net.

Some staggering defence from the Portuguese pair stopped them from falling two breaks down, and they turned the tiebreak around by being impenetrable up at the net.

For the first time all weekend, Finland were on the back foot as they faced a set point, but Cabral netted a backhand return off a second serve with the court gaping.

Soon after, the Finnish pair created a third match point and this time they made no mistake. Fittingly, the final shot was a backhand return winner from Ruusuvuori. The players chest bumped and the party could start.

Finland have now won 12 of their past 16 Davis Cup ties and they are a perfect example of a nation capitalising on a strong era.

France in control against Chinese Taipei
New France captain Paul-Henri Mathieu’s pick of Luca van Assche and Adrian Mannarino in singles has paid dividends in their clash with Chinese Taipei.

First up, 19-year-old Van Assche got France on the board with a 6-4 6-4 win over Hsu Yu Hsiou, before Mannarino, 16 years his senior, made it 2-0 with a 6-3 7-5 victory over Wu Tung-Lin.

On the hunt for an 11th Davis Cup title, France have finished third in the Group Stage in the previous two Davis Cup Finals. One more point on Day 2 will see them through to try for another shot at getting to the Final 8.

In the second singles, the difference in ranking ultimately made itself apparent. The Frenchman is at a career-high of 17, while Wu, currently ranked 238, has never made it inside the top 150.

However, a big-hitting and determined Wu came out fighting and grasped the momentum in the second set, going 3-0 up before being reeled back to 4-4 by Mannarino. The 35-year-old then broke for 6-5 before serving out the match with his 10th ace.

“I knew he was going to try pretty hard,” Mannarino said. “I heard from different people that his groundstrokes were pretty heavy so I was expecting him to be really aggressive. I was a bit surprised in the beginning, he started really well, he started full power all the time so it took me a little bit of time to get used to it. When I got into my rhythm I was feeling pretty consistent on the court.

“Second set was a little bit tougher than I expected, but I felt like I was able to finish strong, so that’s pretty good for us.”

At the start of the day, it was a tough Davis Cup debut for Van Aasche, who is fresh from reaching the third round at the Australian Open; the 19-year-old took a while to get into his stride in front of a packed crowd at the Taipei Tennis Centre.

Van Assche broke Hsu in the first game, but three double faults from the Frenchman in the second handed the break back. In his second service game the nerves seemed to settle, and from there on he managed to stay one step ahead of his opponent, rounding out the match in one hour 35 minutes.

“I’m very happy with the win today,” Van Assche said. “It was an amazing feeling to play my first match with the French team. I’m just very happy to have won the first point for France.”

Hsu will take to the court again on Day 2, pairing with Jason Jung to face experienced doubles duo Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

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