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Top five greatest Davis Cup finals since 2000

Andrew Hendrie in News 23 Nov 2018
  • Top five Davis Cup finals since 2000
  • Take a trip down memory lane and relive some of the best Davis Cup final moments since the turn of the century
Rafael Nadal after clinching the 2011 Davis Cup title for Spain (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

With the last Davis Cup tie as we know it coming up this weekend, we’ve gone back and picked out our five greatest moments from finals since the turn of the century.

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1. 2002: Russia def. France 3-2

Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Paris, France

1. Marat Safin (RUS) def. Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4
2. Sebastian Grosjean (FRA) def. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) 7-6(3) 6-3 6-0
3. Nicolas Escude/Fabrice Santoro (FRA) def. Yevgeny Kafelnikov/Marat Safin (RUS) 6-3 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-4
4. Marat Safin (RUS) def. Sebastian Grosjean (FRA) 6-3 6-2 7-6(12)
5. Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) def. Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA) 6-3 6-2 3-6 5-7 6-4

Russia's Mikhail Youzhny is thrown in the air by his team-mates after his five set victory in the fifth rubber over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

An absolute classic for the ages. Defending champions France were aiming to make it back-to-back Davis Cup triumphs having won the title in Australia the previous year (more on that below), but they were ambushed by the unlikeliest of heroes for Russia.

The great thing about Davis Cup has always been that it doesn’t revolve around the top players and the lower-ranked men have the chance to step up and lead their country to victory - and that’s exactly what happened in Paris as two 20-year-olds - Mikhail Youzhny and Paul-Henri Mathieu - battled it out in a five-set blockbuster to determined which nation would lift the 2002 Davis Cup trophy. The more heralded players took centre stage over the first two days, with former U.S. Open champion Marat Safin beating Mathieu and French star Sebastian Grosjean defeating former No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Day 1 before the French team of Nicolas Escude and Fabrice Santoro prevailed in a five-set epic in the doubles to give France a 2-1 lead.

However, Safin struck back for Russia in the fourth rubber to topple Grosjean in straight sets before Youzhny registered what would ultimately be arguably the biggest win of his own illustrious career, coming back from two-sets-to-love down to take down Mathieu in five - the only time in the 118-year history of the Davis Cup that a two-set deficit has been turned around in a live fifth rubber in a final.

“It’s one of the best times of my career, but it’s not my hour it’s our team’s victory,” said Youzhny, who was quick to point out the role of his compatriots. “Even when I was two sets down I knew I should just keep playing my game.” 

2. 2016: Argentina def. Croatia 3-2

Arena Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

1. Marin Cilic (CRO) def. Federico Delbonis (ARG) 6-3 7-5 3-6 1-6 6-2
2. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) def. Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 6-4 6-7(8) 6-3 7-5
3. Marin Cilic/Ivan Dodig (CRO) def. Juan Martin del Potro/Leonardo Mayer 7-6(2) 7-6(4) 6-3
4. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) def. Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-7(4) 2-6 7-5 6-4 6-3
5. Federico Delbonis (ARG) def. Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 6-3 6-4 6-2

After four runner-up finishes and the memories of their heartbreaking loss to Spain a few years earlier, Juan Martin del Potro led Argentina to their first ever Davis Cup title on foreign soil in Zagreb as the South American nation came back from 2-1 down to beat Croatia 3-2 in a thrilling showdown.

Federico Delbonis almost pulled off a huge upset in the opening rubber as he forced Marin Cilic to five sets, but the Croatian regrouped after a mid-match concentration lapse and produced a dominant fifth set to give the hosts the initial advantage, however Ivo Karlovic - the oldest man to play a singles rubber in a Davis Cup final in 96 years at the age of 37 - couldn’t withstand a determined del Potro, with the Argentine levelling the scores with a four-set triumph.

Cilic and Ivan Dodig combined to propel Croatia into the lead on Day 2 as they conquered the team of del Potro and Leonardo Mayer in straight sets, and at the time, it appeared as if Argentina were in for more Davis Cup heartbreak. However, with footballing legend Diego Maradona leading the large Argentinian contingent in the packed Zagreb Arena, the away team put together an extraordinary comeback on Day 3, with del Potro coming back from two-sets-to-love down to beat Marin Cilic before Delbonis turned into the unlikely hero, taking out Karlovic in straight sets to secure Argentina their first Davis Cup trophy, sparking crazy scenes in Zagreb.

3. 2001: France def. Australia 3-2

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia

1. Nicolas Escude (FRA) def. Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4
2. Patrick Rafter (AUS) def. Sebastian Grosjean (FRA) 6-3 7-6(6) 7-5
3. Cedric Pioline/Fabrice Santori (FRA) def. Lleyton Hewitt/Patrick Rafter (AUS) 2-6 6-3 7-6(5) 6-1
4. Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) def. Sebastian Grosjean (FRA) 6-3 6-2 6-3
5. Nicolas Escude (FRA) def. Wayne Arthurs (AUS) 7-6(3) 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3

Nicolas Escude of France is thrown in the air by team mates after his win against Wayne Arthurs of Australia (Photo by Nick Laham/ALLSPORT)

As an Australian, this one hurt and still does. But you cannot deny it was an all-time classic, with the French team putting together one of the most stunning runs to the title in history. Incredibly, France didn’t play a single match on home soil in 2001, emerging triumphant in Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands before taking home the silverware inside Melbourne’s iconic Rod Laver Arena against Australia in the final.

Nicolas Escude was the hero for France all the way through the competition. He beat Roger Federer in four sets and saved a match point against George Bastl to win 8-6 in a live fifth rubber against Switzerland in the quarter-finals before going on to defeat then No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs in another live fifth rubber in the final to lead his country to victory.

Australia came into the contest as big favourites after beating France in the 1999 final in Nice just two years earlier. Hewitt was the No. 1 player in the world and coming off titles at the U.S. Open and the ATP Finals, while the final was played on grass. Everything pointed to an Australian win, but it wasn’t meant to be for the home side. Pat Rafter, in what was ultimately his last ever event before injury forced a premature retirement, could only play a maximum of two ties due to his injured shoulder, and after beating Sebastian Grosjean to level the tie, a gamble of propelling him into the doubles with Lleyton Hewitt didn’t pay off as the French pairing of Cedric Pioline and Fabrice Santoro won in four sets.

Hewitt recovered to glide past Grosjean in straight sets to force a live fifth rubber, but Rafter’s body wasn’t ready for the challenge, with Australia throwing serve-and-volleying No. 64 Wayne Arthurs into the deep end. Arthurs fought gallantly, but he was ultimately no match for the classy and confident Escude, who prevailed in four sets to send the French team into wild celebrations.

4. 2011: Spain def. Argentina 3-1

Estadio Olímpico, Seville, Spain

1. Rafael Nadal (ESP) def. Juan Monaco (ARG) 6-1 6-1 6-2
2. David Ferrer (ESP) def. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) 6-2 6-7(2) 3-6 6-4 6-3
3. David Nalbandian/Eduardo Schwank (ARG) def. Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco 6-4 6-2 6-3
4. Rafael Nadal (ESP) def. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) 1-6 6-4 6-1 7-6(0)

Arguably one of the most pulsating Davis Cup finals in history, let alone this century. In the 99th edition of the competition, the great Rafael Nadal lifted his third Davis Cup trophy as he led Spain to victory over a gallant Argentinian outfit in front of an electric crowd in Seville.

Nadal got the home nation off to the perfect start as he cruised past Juan Monaco in straight sets, but Spain were pushed to their absolute limits for the remainder of the tie, with David Ferrer coming back from two-sets-to-one down to conquer Juan Martin del Potro 6-2 6-7(2) 3-6 6-4 6-3 in the second singles rubber to hand the hosts a 2-0 lead after Day 1. David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank gave Argentina  fighting chance as they defeated Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in straight sets in the doubles, setting up a mouth-watering four rubber between Nadal and del Potro.

A wrist injury the previous year had sent del Potro tumbling down the rankings to a low mark of No. 485, but he’d worked his way back up to No. 11 after a series of impressive performances - but even in defeat, the Argentine played one of the best matches of his career against Nadal. However, nobody was stopping the Spanish sensation that day, with Nadal also producing some of his best ever tennis to eventually subdue the ‘Tower of Tandil’, recovering from dropping the opening set 1-6 to win the next three, including flying through the fourth set tiebreak without losing a point, ultimately prevailing 1-6 6-4 6-1 7-6(0).

5. Czech Republic def. Spain 3-2

O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic

1. David Ferrer (ESP) def. Radek Stepanek (CZE) 6-3 6-4 6-4
2. Tomas Berdych (CZE) def. Nicolas Almagro (ESP) 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3
3. Tomas Berdych/Radek Stepanek (CZE) def. Marcel Granollers/Marc Lopez (ESP) 3-6 7-5 7-5 6-3
4. David Ferrer (ESP) def. Tomas Berdych (CZE) 6-2 6-3 7-5
5. Radek Stepanek (CZE) def. Nicolas Almagro 6-4 7-6(0) 3-6 6-3

Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic celebrates match point against Nicolas Almagro of Spain (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Once again, one of those great moments where a top 10 player isn’t the hero and a lower-ranked man stepped up and claims the decisive fifth rubber for his country in the Davis Cup final. A raucous atmosphere inside Prague’s O2 Arena was the backdrop for the 100th Davis Cup final as Czech Republic became the first nation in history to hold the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Hopman Cup simultaneously in 2012 as Radek Stepanek defeated No. 11 Nicolas Almagro in four sets in the live fifth rubber.

"I was dreaming about it my whole life and now we're standing here as Davis Cup champions, it's amazing," said Stepanek. "I can't describe what I'm feeling right now."

David Ferrer couldn’t do any more for Spain as he beat Tomas Berdych and Stepanek in his two singles rubbers, but Berdych - who beat Almagro in four hours in the second singles rubber - teamed with Stepanek to win the crucial doubles tie in fours sets after coming from a set down. Clearly gassed, Berdych couldn’t hang with the tenacious Ferrer as he went down in straight sets in the fourth rubber, but Stepanek stepped up and played one of the matches of his career to hand Czech Republic their first Davis Cup title as an independent nation.

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Top five greatest Davis Cup finals since 2000

With the last Davis Cup tie as we know it coming up this weekend, we’ve gone back and picked out our five greatest moments from finals since the turn of the century.

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