Davis Cup 2015: Heroes’ welcome as Murray and Ward seal GB 2-0 lead

A thrilling James Ward comeback gives Great Britain a 2-0 Davis Cup lead over the United States in Glasgow

Andy Murray knew it would be emotional, this return to a Scottish tennis court for the first time since 2011.

In the decade since his first tie for GB in this globe-embracing tennis competition, Murray has seen many countries, played his 14 ties on every surface, and won 23 of his 30 matches.

But since he last played on the soil of his homeland, Murray had become the first Briton to win a Grand Slam, the US Open in 2012, and to win Wimbledon, in 2013, since Fred Perry in 1936, and the first to win singles Olympic gold in over 100 years.

Then this time last year, on American clay courts, he led GB’s first win against the USA since 1935 and its first World Group win in 28 years. To give that some context, it was the first time GB has reached the quarter-finals in Murray’s lifetime.

That this homecoming should be against that same mighty rival, the USA, added even more spice. For these two nations were the original pair, the pair that contested the first Cup in 1900. In this their 20th meeting, could GB beat their oldest adversaries on home soil for the first time since that 5-0 on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 1935? Could the home nation narrow the 8-11 gap in their head-to-head against the most successful Davis Cup nation, with a remarkable 32 titles?

Murray was by far the highest-ranked player among the two teams, and with home advantage, plus the choice of a slow, low-bouncing hard court, there were hopes that this could carry GB and Murray to the quarter-finals for the second consecutive year.

Well if home fans had anything to do with it, GB could do anything. Tickets for Glasgow’s Emirates Arena sold out on the day they went on sale, and sure enough, the atmosphere that welcomed Murray, James Ward, birthday boy Dominic Inglot, and Jamie Murray was enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Murray had anticipated as much: “The beginning of the match will be quite emotional. Obviously coming out onto court and national anthems getting played, and being first match, the atmosphere is going to be pretty intense, so I’ll be nervous—which is normal.”

Though it was perhaps less the anthems than the communal rendition of “Loch Lomond” that lifted the heart. But whatever the cause, Murray’s opening was everything the fans could have hoped for.

His first opponent, the inconsistent but talented No47 Donald Young never looked like a match for Murray, and with the Briton opening in near-perfect form, taking the ball on the rise to counter the attacking Young, Murray barely put a foot wrong in his rush to a 6-1, 21-minute first set. Not a point dropped on serve, and just one unforced error to 11 winners.

The second set was much the same, four minutes longer, 12/13 first serve points won, seven winners, one error: again, 6-1.

In the third set, Young began to flow with much more consistency, and the talent that he showed in buckets as a junior came to the fore with some wonderfully aggressive leftie strikes and net attacks. Murray was up to the task, with not a serve going astray through the entire set, until the very last game.

Murray was briefly thrown out of his rhythm by Young’s variety and attack, and a couple of errors on forehand and overhead gave the American an unexpected break to take the set, 6-4.

Young continued his streak in the opening game of the fourth, but Murray quickly wrenched control back to break in third game and again in the seventh, and he took the rubber, 6-2, with some very fine serving indeed. By the end, indeed, Murray’s game was firing on all cylinders: just two points dropped on serve, 12 winners to six errors, and 5-6 at the net.

But what stood out, as he hit the winning shot, was the passion felt by this Scot and Briton for his win. He pumped, he roared, he jumped and raised his arms to the crowd. He had played his part, and could do no more this Friday.

What it had shown, however, was the Young would be a handful for GB’s No2, James Ward. The American showed some flashes of great tennis and more resilience to adversity than usual.

But first Ward, ranked 111, had to find something special against the No20-ranked John Isner, just as he had a year ago against Sam Querrey, when Ward came from behind to win in fives sets.

And he played a tidy first set against the huge-serving Isner. They were all square as far as the tie-break, and Ward changed ends at 4-2, but then lost five points in a row to concede the set, 7-6. In the second set, too, Ward held on strongly, making far fewer errors than Isner but was unable to create a break chance. Isner got his opening just before another tie-break, to take the set, 7-5.

Come the third, though, and Ward began to pick up the Isner serve a little better, got some rallies goingf, and flashed a running forehand past Isner for a break point in the sixth game. A near-identical running cross-court pass and he had the break. He served out, 6-3 and appealed for the crowd’s encouragement. He got it.

He could not convert the only break chance for either player in the fourth set and it headed to another tie-break, far more raucous than the first. This time he changed ends at 5-1 and made no mistake: Ward levelled the rubber, 7-6(3).

He had made only three errors in the fourth set, and opened the fifth with a love hold. But the climax of the match would extend almost two hours more, take in 175 points and 28 games. Ward could not match Isner on winners but his error rate remained stunningly low, just 13 of them in a set that cranked up the pressure and the volume, with Ward the fresher but Isner resisting all the way.

Finally, after five hours, Ward repeated his feat of 2014 with a comeback against the odds, 15-13, to take GB 2-0 ahead in the tie.

It is a doubly valuable lead: Murray will be hot favourite to beat a weary Isner in the reverse singles come Sunday, but a 2-0 lead also takes the pressure off Murray’s participation in the doubles against the Bryan brothers on Saturday: brother Jamie and Inglot look certs to take on the mighty Americans, and not entirely underdogs based on recent results.

All in all, it feels like a win-win situation—and Murray and Ward will surely rest happy in their beds tonight after a fine day’s effort.

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