Davis Cup final: Andy Murray leads GB to historic victory in Belgium
Great Britain win their first Davis Cup since 1936 after Andy Murray beat Belgium's David Goffin in straight sets in Ghent
Make no mistake: This had the makings of a very special day for many Britons, whether avid followers of tennis or not.
A nation had seen Andy Murray become the first man to win Olympic gold in men’s singles in over a century—and what’s more, in London.
Great Britain then watched him go on to win a first Grand Slam, at the US Open, since Fred Perry in 1936—and do the same at Wimbledon the following year.
Now he was proving to be one of the most successful and committed Davis Cup players for the same proud nation, aiming to lead Great Britain—and with apparently endless sweat and toil—to a first Davis Cup victory since that same remarkable Fred Perry year of 1936.
Four years ago, Great Britain was close to falling to the bottom rung of the biggest team event in tennis, but year by year edged through Group 1 and World Group playoffs to the World Group. Eighteen months ago, the team lost in the quarter-finals away to Italy, but a year later, were back at the same stage and beyond, beating mighty Davis Cup nations and old adversaries the USA, France and Australia.
In 2013, Murray won two singles and a doubles rubber, and last year won four rubbers. This year, he was already up to seven in singles and three in doubles, while still working his way to an end-of-year high ranking of No2.
Now he was poised for more history: should he win the fourth rubber on a cold, wet day in Ghent, he would become just the third player to achieve an 8-0 singles win-loss record and only the fourth man to win 11 rubbers—singles and doubles—in a single year since the introduction of the World Group in 1981.
For the early British arrivals on this final, final day, there was a chance to glimpse Murray’s final warm-up. Perhaps in a nod to British colours, he was this time wearing bright red, having worn white to practise on Friday and donned the team colour of blue for his two winning matches.
It was, as it always is for Murray, a hard-working session, played against James Ward—a sign, most likely, that the only other man to win a singles rubber this year may take to court for the decider if he was required.
Not that most people of a British persuasion expected a fifth rubber. Murray’s opponent, No16 ranked David Goffin, had not picked up a set in their two previous matches, but he was not a man to be underestimated. He, too, was playing three rubbers, and had the backing of 90 per cent of the pounding arena in Ghent.
The talent of the slight, quietly spoken Belgian was clear when he broke the top 50 during 2012, the year he made a run through qualifying to the fourth round of Roland Garros—and won the first set against Roger Federer. His progress took a knock when he required surgery to a broken wrist in 2013, but after a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year, he went on a 42-2 run to the Basel final, winning two ATP titles and four Challengers, and claimed the ATP’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
So to 2015: some decent runs in Grand Slams, a first Masters quarter-final in Rome, two runners-up trophies in Gstaad and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and sandwiched in between it all have been five Davis Cup singles wins, including a comeback from two sets down in the first rubber here in Ghent.
And for Goffin, even more than Murray, he stared history in the face. His small homeland was among the first nations to join GB and the United States at the very start of the 20th century, and reached the final in 1904. They lost to GB—and have not reached a final since.
He explained, while playing in Basel, just how great was the weight of expectation: “In Belgium it’s huge to be in the final, and after Justine [Henin] and Kim [Clijsters], it’s just great to have another great event in Belgium—so they are expecting so many results. We have nothing to lose. We can just give everything and have no regrets.”
Murray, off court, was playing it cool: “I feel pretty calm.” But his intensity on court during every Davis Cup match is palpable, and victory at Queen’s over France, reduced him to tears. This was special, this meant the world.
And if there was any doubt about that, on both sides of the net, it was written all over both the faces and tennis of both men.
The first excitement came in the second game, a break point faced and resisted by Goffin. The next came in the fifth when a netted backhand brought up break point against Murray. He made a forehand winner to hold.
There were calls, whistles, horns to disrupt serves—very tough for both players to concentrate. But Murray took a hold of proceedings with two winning backhands to break in the sixth, fist-pumped his way through to 5-2, and almost broke Goffin again, but the Belgian resisted three break points. Murray would have to serve out the set, 6-3, after an intense 48 minutes.
The second set began in the same high-octane mood: Goffin played boldly, moving forward for a glorious swing volley at deuce, and a sequence of fine Belgian forehands brought up break point on the Murray serve.
Again the Briton held firm, as did Goffin once more in the third game after Murray hit a remarkable pass from a drop-shot pick-up. Two more break points went begging, and they edged to what looked like a tie-break, 5-5, but Murray, with perfect timing, found a couple of touches of magic—first a backhand return-of-serve winner and then a volley finish to break. Two hours on the clock and Great Britain had the advantage once more.
To chants of “David, David”, Murray tried to compose himself—and he had already been called for a time violation despite the constant hold-ups from crowd noise—but went 0-30 down. Even so, he dug deep, and found his best defensive tennis to hold for the set, 7-5.
Now it was the British who set up the chant: “One more set, one more set”. However Goffin showed his quality and spirit with another aggressive reply, saving break points in the opener and returning serve with sharp, angled shots and a crisp volley put away. With two break points, he forced a forehand error from Murray for the break: 2-0.
Emotions were running higher than ever, but Murray’s upset refocused matters and he played a superb drop-shot-lob combo and a backhand winner to get the break back.
Every game now seemed to go to the limit—Murray saved a break point and then broke to love, only to fight off another deuce for 5-3. But now Goffin looked drawn and tired, and sure enough, with adrenalin and momentum on his side, Murray broke for a 6-3 victory.
And so, after a 79-year wait, Great Britain had its hands on the Davis Cup trophy for the 10th time. Just as then, it will surely be one man whose name goes down in British tennis history—and the name of Andy Murray has so often been bracketed with that of Fred Perry.
It is, of course, a team event, and Jamie Murray, Dom Inglot, Dan Evans and Dom Inglot all received their medals along with an inspired captain Leon Smith.
But few will take away from Andy Murray the singular effort, commitment and passion of one man who can now claim to be a Wimbledon, Olympic and Davis Cup champions.