Davis Cup 2015: Double delight as Andy and Jamie Murray steal GB lead in thriller
GB are one win away from the Davis Cup final after Andy and Jamie Murray beat Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth in the doubles
As is so often the case—in fact it could be the mantra of Davis Cup—it could all come down to the doubles.
With one world-beating singles player, Grand Slam and Olympic champion Andy Murray, Team GB had already gone further in the tournament than any time since 1981, and was now aiming to reach its 20th final and, beyond that, a first title since the Fred Perry heyday of 1936.
Murray had stepped up to play in three rubbers in the quarter-finals at Queen’s, winning both his singles matches against top opposition, and also the doubles with brother Jamie. By the end, he was on his knees with exhaustion.
The big question coming back to Glasgow for the semi-finals against Australia, then, was whether Andy Murray would again be called upon to play doubles against a crack pairing of Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt.
It was a tough call for captain Leon Smith, who had a wealth of doubles talent on the squad. Jamie Murray had reached the final at the US Open and Wimbledon, and Dom Inglot the semis of the US Open having Winston-Salem the week before. But the two doubles specialists had not played together.
It looked as though the doubles rubber would be pivotal as the teams went into Saturday with one win apiece. Australia’s top player, No23-ranked Bernard Tomic proved too much for Briton Dan Evans, and with veteran Aussie Hewitt waiting in the wings to take a singles spot come Sunday if required—as he had done so impressively against Kazakhstan in the quarters—the remaining singles rubbers were in the balance.
Asked about the decision at the end of the first day, no-one was saying anything.
Andy Murray: “It isn’t my decision. It’s up to the captain to decide that… We’ll talk about it this evening.”
Leon Smith: “Wouldn’t entirely be up to me… We’ll just follow the same process that we’ve done before. We’ll go back and touch base with Andy and then hopefully make that decision quite quickly.”
There was a strong hint about that decision come 11 the next morning, with the whole GB squad out to warm-up, and with the Murray brothers on one side of the net, practising their forward-moving plays. Sure enough, on the dot of midday came the formal announcement: Andy would join Jamie.
The Australian doubles pairing, though, was not to be under-estimated. The 34-year-old Hewitt’s qualities, and especially as the most prolific player in Davis Cup, are famed, but his 27-year-old compatriot Groth, something of a late bloomer, reached career-highs in both doubles and singles this year, at 24 and 53 respectively. At 6ft 4in and 99 kg, he is the powerhouse to Hewitt’s 61kg nimble, all-court counter-punch, and the owner of the fastest ever recorded serve: 163mph.
Looking back at the Murrays’ performance against France, the duo played as brothers, complementing and complimenting one another, one a leftie and one a rightie, both with great hand skills and hugely adept at the net. But in the first set, it was clearly the Aussies who gelled the better—not just complementary but pumped and dogged.
At the net they picked off volleys, drops, and even that hardest of shots, the high backhand angled smash. Meanwhile, the Brits were under pressure on their serves right from the start. Jamie faced break point in the opening game while Groth held to love. Jamie faced break point again in the fifth game and this time, the Aussies converted. Hewitt and Groth chest-pumped, but the lightweight veteran went flying: their differences summed up in one moment.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was Groth’s serve that wavered, a double-fault bringing jeers after an out call had been overturned in the Aussies’ favour. At 15-40 down, it was Hewitt who leapt around the net to pick off winning smashes, and Groth delivered his big serve to hold for the set, 6-4.
Andy Murray had looked stiff for much of the set, walking with a bent gait, but in the second, he seemed to loosen up and the brothers began to time their net attacks as though born to it. They eventually worked a break against Groth in the sixth game and served out to level at 6-3.
And that set the tone: an increasingly thrilling one of high-quality tennis that see-sawed from one team to the other. Australia got a quick break in the third set but come the seventh game, a long rally drew a crucial error from them and GB broke back. Another long tussle in the 10th game ended with another British break and Andy Murray served it out 6-4.
The fourth set saw an exchange of breaks at the start, and GB fought off set points to level at 5-5. The noise levels soared again as the near impregnable Hewitt wavered on serve and the Brits broke—but Hewitt compensated with a cracking winner to level again: 6-6. There was not a sliver between them in the tie-break. GB had a match-point at 6-5 but it was the Aussies who strung together three straight points for the set, 7-6(6).
To the last, the match was on a knife-edge: First the Brits broke to open a 3-0 lead, only to be broken back in fifth. Groth faced four break points as the Brits went on the attack, and a 136mph ace saved the day. However, it would be the big-serving Groth who finally acquiesced, against a barrage of sound and the pumped-up Murrays, and the Britons were through, 6-4, after fours hours of spell-binding tennis—a perfect advert for the doubles version of the game.
Joy was unconfined for the British, and Murray, even after such efforts, will remain the favourite whoever takes to court in the fourth rubber—and Aussie captain Wally Masur was tight-lipped about his plans afterwards. Murray asserted that his stiffness was due to the different demands in movement of doubles tennis, and he would not look beyond his next match: “I’ll just try and concentrate on the match and focus on the tactics and try and perform like I did on Friday, and that’s what my job is tomorrow.
“And hopefully I can do it well, and then give you a better answer [about reaching the finals] tomorrow if we’re in that position.”
Amid the uproar of celebration, Hewitt walked away for what is probably the last time after 78 matches in 41 ties through 17 years—unless he gets the call for that Murray encounter in place of Tomic.
Hewitt has been part of two previous Davis Cup triumphs, and would surely have loved to go out on a high… but it now looks like Great Britain’s tie to lose.