Davis Cup relegation raises questions for Brits
It has become a familiar sight for staunch supporters of Great Britain in the Davis Cup: the opposing team rushing the court to congratulate their compatriot after he has wrapped up a great victory on foreign soil.
Back in 1999, they watched Todd Martin, Alex O’Brien and Tom Gullikson jump the hoardings to slap Jim Courier on the back following an epic win against Greg Rusedski, 8-6 in the fifth.
A year later, the Ecuadorians broke with All England Club proprietary to dive onto Court No.1 and swarm Giovanni Lapentti, who lay spread-eagled on the grass, star-fashion, having come back from two sets to love down to beat a dejected Arvind Parmar.
In 2002, it was a classy Swedish side, Greg Rusedski once again succumbing in the fifth rubber to an in-form Thomas Johansson fresh from victory in the Australian Open. Andy Murray got his first taste of this sort of defeat on home soil in 2008, when Austria’s Alexander Peya beat Alex Bogdanovic in four sets in a deciding final match.
This weekend it was the turn of the Polish team and on the evidence of the last three days, it looks likely that Murray will have to get used to losing in this manner. That is if he decides to continue representing Great Britain. He could hardly be blamed for opting to concentrate on winning a Grand Slam title rather than losing to lowly world teams because the other singles players cannot deliver.
The Brits entered day three of the tie at Liverpool’s Echo Arena 2-1 down, after Murray and Ross Hutchins lost to specialist doubles pairing – and former Australian Open semi-finalists – Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg in four sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Murray, still hampered by the wrist injury he has been struggling with since the US Open, did his bit with straight sets victories over Przysiezny and Jerzy Janowicz. During Friday’s singles and Saturday’s doubles, his tennis was somewhat erratic, perhaps because he was trying to protect the wrist. But on Sunday he came out all guns blazing, despite his opponent being ranked 258 places below him. The Murray roar returned, the fists were pumped after every important point and the magic emerged, on one occasion in the form of a flicked backhand pass.
He finished off the match with a drilled backhand return down the line and yet another roar, looking to the sky in trademark fashion, then screaming “come on”. If anyone needed proof – not that they should – that Andy Murray wants to play and win for his country, this was it. He does not show that kind of emotion after a straight sets win against a qualifier in the opening round of a Grand Slam.
Murray was then straight back out on court for the start of Evans’ match after what must have been a very quick cool down, shower and massage, ready to lead the cheers for his teammate. There wasn’t much for anyone to work with. Dan Evans’ loss to Michel Przysiezny, unlike Rusedski’s brave defeat to Courier, was an agonising example of a young man buckling under the pressure of the occasion.
In both of his singles rubbers, it wasn’t until the third set that the 19-year-old Davis Cup debutant really looked like he might be in with a chance of winning the match. On both occasions he went a break up and then was immediately broken back by his opponent.
“Your country needs you Dan,” was the Liverpudlian cry from a woman in the stands on Friday. Perhaps she should have reminded him of this on Sunday as well. Seemingly crippled by nerves, Evans was broken twice in the first set and double faulted to give Przysiezny a 5-1 lead in the second, which he quickly converted into a two-set lead.
It was painful viewing, as the Pole exploited Evans’ passivity. With the Brit unable or unwilling to hit a backhand drive, Przysiezny mercilessly pummelled the wing, and Evans could only watch as his slice was met time and again by a groundstroke winner or a caressed volley off the Pole’s racquet.
When Przysiezny broke in the first game of the third set, it looked like it was all over for Evans, but the Brit finally showed some of his potential to break twice for a 4-2 lead. But, serving for 5-2, Evans squandered a game point then netted a volley at deuce, which seemed to swing the momentum in the Pole’s favour once again. Przsiezny went on to break straight back before taking the set 7-5.
The 3-2 loss means that Great Britain are now relegated into group two of the Euro-Africa zone, meaning they could come up against the likes of Egypt, Monaco, Lithuania and Bulgaria next year. As far as Murray is concerned, the team is where it deserves to be.
“We are clearly not good enough to be playing against these teams,” he said. “With or without me, we are struggling to win matches.”
Once again, questions will be asked of the LTA and the organisation’s ability to produce top-quality British players.
“This could be the best thing that happens to us,” Murray suggested. “Guys like Dan [Evans] and others ranked around 200 will get a chance to play in Davis Cup matches where there is a very good chance of them winning and get used to playing.”
Davis Cup captain John Lloyd was also frank about the situation with men’s tennis in this country: “Do we need more hunger and steel out there? Yes we do.”
Evans seemed to lack the fight and desire so obviously present in a 19-year-old Murray; the winning mentality which prompted many to predict big things for the Scotsman. It’s easy to speculate about the reasons behind Britain’s inability to produce more than one top 100 male player, but hard to come up with an explanation without knowing the inner workings of the LTA.
There will be plenty of time for pondering on the plane to Slovenia.