Davis Cup 2016 preview: Andy Murray returns, as GB pursues 150th winning tie
Marianne Bevis looks ahead to the Davis Cup 2016 as Great Britain prepare to begin their title defence
It seems but a moment since Andy Murray was headlining Great Britain’s march to an historic Davis Cup victory in a battened-down Belgium.
But a full three months after Team GB won one of the biggest team trophies in sport for the first time in 79 years, it begins again for the 16 teams that make up the World Group. This time, though, the season’s demands are especially tough.
The top players must manage their year and their physical and mental resources to prepare for Rio, for every four years, the Olympics fall just weeks after the Davis Cup’s quarter-final ties and just weeks before the US Open and the semi-finals ties.
Big names out in force
In this first round, in this big year, no fewer than six top-10 players will put themselves on the line for their countries, including world No1 Novak Djokovic, No6 Kei Nishikori, No7 Tomas Berdych, No9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and No10 Richard Gasquet.
Add into the mix six more players in the top 20 and a further four in the top 30, and the stakes are clearly high, upped by the imperative to qualify for their Olympic squads: players need at least one nomination for Davis Cup during the preceding year.
Many eyes will, naturally, be on Djokovic, who reached 700 match-wins in Dubai before being forced to pull out in the quarters with an eye infection. However, there will perhaps be even more interest in the man who spearheaded GB’s victory last year, world No2 Andy Murray.
Murray’s eventful February
Murray’s singular efforts through 2015 made him 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 year since the creation of the World Group in 1981.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that wet and windy title weekend in Ghent, though. He ended 2015 with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. He began 2016 with a final run at the Australian Open and, in an emotional runner’s-up speech, promised wife Kim that he would be on the next flight home: She gave birth to their first child little more than a week later.
Another week on, and Murray was marking the 10th anniversary of his first tour title as a teenager in San Jose—in the company of Kim Sears for the first time.
Now he prepares to play his first competitive match since taking paternity leave, and once again, victory could write another chapter in British tennis history.
First, the home nation is bidding to win its 150th tie; next, Murray could equal Tim Henman and Mike Sangster on 29 singles wins, equal third among British men; then, he is bidding to extend an 11-match winning streak—singles and doubles—and an 11-0 singles record on hard courts in Davis Cup.
GB’s growing experience
Of course, Murray is not the only member of the GB squad with that name. His brother Jamie will be appearing in front of the home nation as a Grand Slam champion—the men’s doubles title in Australia—for the first time, and his performance with his brother in doubles during last year’s campaign was key to the team’s victory.
Dominic Inglot, also nominated in doubles, has won a title in each of the last four years, and his last Davis Cup rubber with Jamie Murray was memorable in taking the famed Bryan brothers to five sets, losing 7-9 in the fifth.
Dan Evans, though ranked 157, will hope for the chance to reproduce the form he showed against Bernard Tomic in GB’s semi tie against Australia, eventually losing 3-6, 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 4-6, but taking a lot out of the young Australian before he faced Murray on the final day. What’s more, the 25-year-old single-hander, should he be asked to play, is sure to rise to his home crowd: Evans is born, and lives, in Birmingham.
Kyle Edmund, since making such an impressive debut in the final last November, when he took Belgium’s star player David Goffin to five sets, has turned 21 and broken the top 100 barrier, now No83. He has also put in some good performances this year, with a quarter-final run via qualifying in Doha, and two finals in Challengers, winning in Dallas last month.
So this is an increasingly mature, proficient team taking on a young and inexperienced Japanese squad. Even so, Japan a long Davis Cup history. In its first year, 1921, it finished runner-up, and in 2011 returned to the top tier after 26 years in Asia/Oceania Group I, scoring their first victory in the World Group to reach the quarter-finals in 2014.
Considering the long history of both nations—and GB has taken part in Davis Cup in every year since its inauguration in 1900—it is remarkable that the two have met only once, back in 1931. It was a 5-0 trouncing by the Britons, and the home nation is, on paper, favoured to win this one, too.
The standout rubber will, of course, feature the two marquee names, Murray and Nishikori, where Murray has the 5-1 upper hand. The one loss came at the World Tour Finals in 2014, after an exhausted Murray battled to qualify from a low of No10 after recovering from back surgery. Of course he now plays after a break of over a month—and a break from his routine of many years, and the gifted Nishikori is on a 10-match winning streak in Davis Cup singles, 16-2 overall.
But don’t miss…
GB-Japan is just one of eight World Group ties with notable features come Friday.
• Berdych is aiming to reach 50 match-wins in the Czech tie against old adversaries Germany, the 15th between the two nations.
• Germany has been absent from the World Group on only three occasions.
• All four of France’s nominations are in the top 20, and the nation is joint-third on the all-time list of champions—nine wins, a further eight times runner-up.
• France has lost in the first round just once in the last 14 years.
• Canada, which takes on France in the French Caribbean ‘department’ of Guadeloupe, is missing Milos Raonic with injury, and star doubles player Daniel Nestor, who is missing only his second tie in 15 years.
• The Davis Cup’s two most decorated nations, Australia and USA, go head-to-head in their 46th meeting, the first in 17 years.
• Lleyton Hewitt captains Australia’s squad for first time: He retired from competitive tennis at the Australian Open—though there are rumours he may step up one last time if Nick Kyrgios does not recover from a virus.
• World No3 Roger Federer and No4 Stan Wawrinka are missing, having both played to save Switzerland from relegation last autumn.
• Poland is looking to become the first nation to reach the quarters on their World Group debut since Kazakhstan in 2011.
• Finally, notable by its absence from the World Group is Spain, which this century has won five times—2000, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011—and been runner-up in 2003 and 2012. But it fell from the World Group in 2014, and will attempt to get a place at the WG playoffs in July.
World Group ties: 4-6 March
Great Britain (1) vs Japan (14)
Barclaycard Arena Birmingham, Great Britain: hard (indoors)
GB: Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans, Dom Inglot
Japan: Kei Nishikori, Taro Daniel, Yoshihito Nishioka, Yasutaka Uchiyama
Serbia (7) vs Kazakhstan (12)
Pionir Hall Belgrade, Serbia: hard (indoors)
Serbia: Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki, Filip Krajinovic, Nenad Zimonjic
Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Dmitry Popko
Italy (9) vs Switzerland (3)
Adriatic Arena Pesaro, Italy: clay (indoors)
Switzerland: Marco Chiudinelli, Henri Laaksonen, Adrien Bossel, Antoine Bellier
Italy: Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi, Simone Bolelli and Marco Cecchinato
Poland (17) vs Argentina (6)
Ergo Arena Gdansk, Poland: hard (indoors)
Poland: Jerzy Janowicz, Kamil Majchrzak, Lukasz Kubot, Marcin Matkowski
Argentina : Leonardo Mayer, Carlos Berlocq, Guido Pella, Renzo Olivo
France (5) vs Canada (10)
Velodrome Amedee Detraux Guadeloupe, France: clay (outdoors)
France: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon
Canada: Vasek Pospisil, Frank Dancevic, Philip Bester, Adil Shamasdin
Germany (15) vs Czech Republic (2)
TUI Arena Hannover, Germany: hard (indoors)
Germany: Philipp Kohlschreiber, Alexander Zverev, Dustin Brown, Philipp Petzschner.
Czech Republic: Tomas Berdych, Lukas Rosol, Jiri Vesely, Radek Stepanek
Australia (8) vs USA (11)
Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club Melbourne, Australia: grass (outdoors)
Australia: Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Groth, John Peers
USA : John Isner, Jack Sock, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan
Belgium (4) vs Croatia (16)
Country Hall du Sart-Tilman Liege, Belgium: clay (indoors)
Belgium: David Goffin, Kimmer Coppejans, Ruben Bemelmans, Arthur de Greef
Croatia: Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Ivan Dodig, Marin Draganja