Davis Cup 2013: Andy Murray leads Team GB into World Group
Davis Cup 2013: Andy Murray's win over Ivan Dodig seals Great Britain's return to World Group after taking 3-1 lead against Croatia
Several teams had already sealed their place in 2014’s Davis Cup World Group by the end of the second of three days of compelling competition around the world: Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
Defending champions, the Czech Republic, had also secured their place in a second consecutive final by beating an under-resourced Argentina in three straight rubbers.
It meant that big names such as Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Bercych could sit back and watch lower-ranked members of their squads play out the ‘dead’ rubbers without having to take to court for a third time.
Andy Murray, though, was not in such a fortunate position. After winning his opening singles match, he returned the next day to join forces with his childhood friend, the doubles expert Colin Fleming, to ensure a 2-1 lead against Croatia going into the final day.
But to guarantee GB’s return to the World Group, he would have to beat the No35-ranked Ivan Dodig in his reverse singles—though Team GB would have a second bite of the cherry. In the final rubber, Dan Evans would face one of two much younger and more inexperienced players than he—and had shown his heart for winning tie-deciding matches in the quarter-finals in April.
Murray, however, was not about to leave anything to chance. Playing in his first Davis Cup tie in two years, he returned to the lion’s den of Umag’s clay court for a third time in as many days and played his finest tennis of the three.
He broke Dodig in the opening game, but the Croat earned a break point in the fourth, and a bold forehand approach backed up by a deft volley drop-shot levelled the score at 2-2.
It was an early sign that Dodig would continue to play the attacking game that has seen him beat the likes of Milos Raonic, Fernando Verdasco and Alexandr Dolgopolov this year. The Croat’s strong, muscular tennis had also earned big wins in doubles: the finals at Wimbledon and the semis at the US Open.
Dodig continued his attacking ways, much to the delight of the crowd, but he had to. Few men can match Murray in speed and stamina and he, like Murray, was playing his third match in as many days. He struggled to hold off the vicious returning of the Briton, and this time a touch volley found the net. Murray led again.
Dodig continued to chase down drop shots, scurried after deep Murray backhands and stayed in contention, but the Briton’s superior depth, touch and variety took their toll on the Croat’s legs and Murray held his lead for a 6-4 set.
Dodig stayed true to his brave tactics, and serve-and-volley play on clay is not easy. He held his opening serve to love, but suffered a break in the next as a Murray backhand return ripped past the incoming Croat time and again.
Dodig did work a couple of break chances in the sixth game, but Murray made an ace on the first and Dodig fired a forehand just wide on the second. The Briton served out the set, 6-2.
Once again, Murray broke Dodig at the very start of the set, and it now looked as though the Croat’s run to the third round in the singles and to the semis in the doubles in New York were weighing heavy.
Dodig continued to battle hard but his error count rose steadily under the pressure of a solid Murray who held serve with increasing ease and speed. But even at the last, the Croat found some attacking magic to pressure Murray. He saved two match points at 3-5, and then looked as though he had hit a remarkable cross-court winner to earn a break chance. The umpire over-ruled the ‘in’ call and that gave Murray a controversial match point. Serving through whistles and jeers, the Briton stayed calm and took the set and match, 6-4.
The efforts of Dodig were reflected in the time on the clock—2hrs 21mins—but there was never any doubt about the outcome: It was Murray who sealed GB’s return to the World Group for the first time since 2008.
Murray, then, did what none of his fellow top-10 colleagues had this weekend: He played—and won—three rubbers while Nadal, Wawrinka, Berdych and Novak Djokovic played only two.
His partner in one of those wins, Fleming, was quick to emphasis the achievement: “It’s just so impressive to see him come out here so soon after the US Open and play such good tennis on a clay court. You can’t praise him enough for what he’s done here.”
It was certainly an impressive effort by Murray, but is it one he can repeat in the heat of the World Group alongside his own individual Grand Slam and Masters ambitions?
The first round of Davis Cup comes hot on the heels of the Australian Open, the quarters immediately after the double-headed hard-court Masters of Indian Wells and Miami. Murray arrived for this World-group play-off tie straight from the US Open, but falling in the quarters did give him time to rest and adjust to the different conditions and time zone.
He gave an early indication, though, that he is up for a challenge that would only add to his standing as one of GB’s greatest sporting heroes.
Already a Wimbledon and Olympic champion, he talked about next year: “I’m looking forward to it, getting to play against some of the biggest countries, hopefully, some of the top teams and top players. It’s exciting for all the guys, and hopefully I’ll be part of that next year.”
He may, by then, be in a position to leave the doubles rubber in the experienced hands of his team-mates: Fleming’s regular and successful partner, Ross Hutchins, is expected to return to competition at the start of next year after confirmation that he is in remission from Hodgkins lymphoma.
And Dan Evans, if he can build on his success at the US Open this season, could be a valuable No2. But much may depend on the all-important draw for the World Group first round that takes place on Wednesday.
The eight teams who contested the World Group quarter-finals this year will all be seeded, and that means Team GB could be up against some formidable competition from the very start. For example, France has eight men in the top 50, two in the top 10. Serbia has Djokovic and former top 10 Janko Tipsarevic. But the challenges could become just as tough further into the draw if other returners to the World Group this weekend pull out their big guns.
Switzerland raced to qualification without Roger Federer. Spain did so without David Ferrer or Nicolas Almagro. Germany did not field Tommy Haas. That may or may not change, but one thing is certain. If Murray opts in, and the draw is kind, it may be fanciful to anticipate a first Davis Cup title since Fred Perry was part of the 1936 winning team, but the ambitions of the British team will be satisfied with nothing less than its first winning tie in the World Group in 27 years—which would also ensure they remained in the elite tier in 2015, too.
NB Evans beat Mate Pavic in two straight sets in the fifth ‘dead’ rubber.
World Group Play-off results
SPAIN 5, UKRAINE 0
Day 1 wins for Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal were followed by doubles victory for Nadal with Marc Lopez. Lopez and Verdasco went on to win the two ‘dead’ rubbers
SWITZERLAND 4, ECUADOR 1
Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli won their opening singles, before Wawrinka joined forces with Michael Lammer for a doubles win. Lammer took the fourth ‘dead’ rubber, Gonzalo Escobar the fifth.
NETHERLANDS 5, AUSTRIA 0
Robin Haase and Thiemo de Bakker won their opening singles before Haase joined with Jean-Julien Rojer to win the doubles. Jess Huta Galung won the fourth ‘dead’ rubber, and the fifth was not contested by Austria.
JAPAN 3, COLOMBIA 2
Kei Nishikori won both his singles rubbers, but Go Soeda lost his first in five sets, and a doubles loss meant Soeda had to win the fifth rubber. It was his third consecutive deciding rubber in World Group or World Group play-off tie, but having lost on the previous two occasions, this time he won in four sets.
GERMANY 4, BRAZIL 1
Philipp Kohlschreiber Florian Mayer won their singles rubbers before Brazil pulled back in the doubles. Daniel Brands took the tie with victory in the opening singles of the final day. Mayer took the fifth ‘dead’ rubber.
POLAND 1, AUSTRALIA 4
Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic won their opening singles and Tomic went on to take his reverse singles, countering the doubles win by Poland. Nick Kyrgios won the fifth ‘dead’ rubber by retirement.
BELGIUM 3, ISRAEL 2
Steve Darcis beat Amir Weintraub in straight sets to secure the win for Belgium after the two countries were tied at 2-2.
World Group semi-final results
SERBIA 3, CANADA 2
World No1 Novak Djokovic beat Milos Raonic 7-6(1) 6-2 6-2 to level the tie on Sunday, before Janko Tipsarevic overcame Vasek Pospisil 7-6(3) 6-2 7-6(6) to wrap up the win for the Serbs and seal their spot in the showpiece.
CZECH REPUBLIC 3, ARGENTINA 2
The Czech Republic had already booked their place in the final after winning all three of their opening rubbers. Victories for Horacio Zeballos and Leonardo Mayer were consolations for Argentina.