Davis Cup 2016: ‘Happy’ Kyle Edmund spearheads win in Serbia to set Argentina tie
Kyle Edmund takes Great Britain into the Davis Cup semi-finals with victory over Serbia's Dusan Lajovic in Belgrade
Not for the first time this summer, rain was determined to make an appearance during the World Group Davis Cup ties that would determine the semi-final line-up for 2016.
It was throwing caution to the wind to play two of the European ties on clay this summer: Torrential rain briefly hit the Rome Masters, almost washed out the first week of the French Open, wrecked havoc on the grass of Halle, Stuttgart and Queen’s, and rearranged the schedule of the first three rounds at Wimbledon.
Perhaps, then, it was to be expected that Great Britain’s tie against Serbia in Belgrade and Argentina’s against Italy in Pesaro—a hop, skip and a jump west and across the Adriatic—would be hit by the same persistent wet weather on the first of their three days of action.
In both cases, only one rubber was played on Friday, in both cases it was the away team—Great Britain in the impressive shape of 21-year-old Kyle Edmund, and Argentina in the shape of Marrakech champion Federico Delbonis—who took the early advantage in heavy, gloomy conditions.
But that set up a packed Saturday, the day usually reserved for the doubles rubber only. First, the No81 ranked Serb Dusan Lajovic dominated James Ward for the loss of just six games, and then Fabio Fognini handed out similar treatment to Juan Monaco. It was down to the doubles to try and steal an edge.
In Belgrade, Briton Dominic Inglot, who has so often sat on GB’s Davis Cup sidelines to watch Jamie Murray joined by brother Andy in the doubles rubber, at last got his day in the sun, and after a nervy start, he showed just what a valuable partner he can be with his huge serve and forehand complementing the left-handed Murray’s all-court variety and speed around the net.
The British duo dropped the second set in a tie-break, but even the formidable 40-year-old doubles expert Nenad Zimonjic could not keep Serbia in the rubber, and Inglot and Murray took GB into the final day with a 2-1 lead.
The Italy-Argentina doubles boasted Juan Martin del Potro playing in Davis Cup for the first time in three years, and leaving the singles work to his country’s two clay-title winners this year. He and Guido Pella looked ready for a straight-sets win over Fognini and Paolo Lorenzi, but the Italians battled back to level the match before del Potro and Pella edged the deciding set after almost four hours.
By the end of day two, then, both ties between the nations that would face each other come the semis, were locked at 2-1 with just the reverse singles to play.
Indeed that was the state of play in all four quarter-finals. Indoors in Trinec, where a strong French squad hoped to make hay against a Czech Republic missing its star player, Tomas Berdych, the odds were upset in both opening rubbers. No78 ranked Lukas Rosol beat world No10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a five-set thriller, only for 22-year-old French riser, riding a first quarter-final run at Wimbledon last week, to beat fellow improver Jiri Vesely to level the tie.
Again it would be the doubles that proved so compelling and important. Grand Slam champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert clinched the three-hour five-setter over another former Major doubles champion, Radek Stepanek, playing with Rosol, to give France the lead. And after losing the first set in the Sunday’s fourth rubber, Tsonga sealed the tie for France—but they would have to wait many hours to find out who their semi opponents would be.
The USA hosted Croatia in Oregon, where Marin Cilic, having lost in five sets to Jack Sock, helped cause the upset of the weekend by joining with Ivan Dodig to beat the Bryan brothers and keep Croatia in the tie.
Meanwhile, back on Europe’s clay, the rain was again trying to upset matters, and Belgrade’s court was deep orange, heavy, and in regular need of attention as Edmund and Lajovic got under way.
Edmund, a strapping 6ft 2in 21-year-old, has been working his way from outside the top 100 at the start of the year to a current 67, and one of his two Challenger titles had been on clay.
His first Davis Cup experience was as demanding as it comes: GB’s final, away from home against Belgium, and facing world No11 David Goffin. Edmund stormed to a two-sets lead there, losing just four games, but then the mental and physical demands of the occasion took a hold and allowed Goffin back for the win.
A baptism of fire, then, but already in Serbia, Edmund had put that behind him to score his first Davis Cup win over Janko Tipsarevic, and now he was ready to do the same against the stylish single-handed Serb Lajovic.
Edmund has the kind of weapons that can pound through even the heavy clay: a big serve and a huge forehand, plus an aggressive game plan and solid backhand. The first set was done in little more than half an hour, 6-3, and he broke in the seventh game of the second set after defending his first break point of the match. He served out the set, 6-4, and again broke in the seventh of the third set.
Edmund, and the entire team—bolstered by the morale-boosting Andy Murray—knew he had only to serve out the set to take GB to the semis, and the tension got to him. Lajovic broke for 5-5, and the Briton fended off two set points to take it to a tie-break.
Now he had to dig deep as he faced 2-4, and did just that: Edmund won five of the remaining six points, 7-6(5), and fell to the clay in disbelief.
Edmund’s achievement should not be underestimated, especially playing away from home. This was the first time that GB have won a World Group match—ie since 1981—without the nation’s No1 player. And in the space of two days, not one but two men had won their first ever Davis Cup rubbers to set up a semi-final on home soil against Argentina. For in Pesaro, Delbonis had proved his clay worth to beat Fognini and take the tie-winning fourth rubber.
Edmund, clearly weary as well as a touch overwhelmed, was naturally proud of his performance: “Friday I won my first match for my country, and this is the second, and the fact that I put together two good performances, I’m really happy. I thought my level these last three days was good… You just say it’s another game, go through the processes, but subconsciously you know what’s going on. I’m happy I regrouped and won in the tie-break.”
Argentina, though, the only nation of the eight this week never to have won the Davis Cup, keeps alive its hopes of a first title after being runner-up four times—more finals without winning than any other nation.
Four times they have met Great Britain, and the last three times they have won: in 1981, 1989 and 2008. The home nation will have to look back to 1928 for its only win over Argentina—which, it so happens, was played on clay in Torquay. The chances are, however, that with the semis following the Rio Olympics and the US Open, they will surely this time play on hard courts for the first time.
World Group quarter-final results
Great Britain (No1) beat Serbia (No7)
Venue: Tasmajdan Stadium, Belgrade, Serbia, on outdoor clay
Kyle Edmund bt Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-4, 6-0
Dusan Lajovic bt James Ward 6-1, 6-3, 6-2
Dominic Inglot/Jamie Murray bt Filip Krajinovic/Nenad Zimonjic 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-3 6-4
Kyle Edmund bt Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5)
Argentina (No6) bt Italy (No9)
Venue: Circolo Tennis Baratoff, Pesaro, Italy, on outdoor clay
Federico Delbonis bt Andreas Seppi 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3)
Fabio Fognini bt Juan Monaco 6-1, 6-1, 7-5
Juan Martin del Potro/Guido Pella (ARG) bt Fabio Fognini/Paolo Lorenzi 6-1, 6-7(4), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4
Federico Delbonis bt Fabio Fognini 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5
GB will play Argentina at home
France (No5) bt Czech Republic (No2)
Venue: Werk Arena, Trinec, Czech Rep, indoor hard
Lukas Rosol bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4
Lucas Pouille bt Jiri Vesely 7-6(2), 6-4, 7-5
Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut bt Lukas Rosol/Radek Stepanek 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bt Jiri Vesely 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, 7-5
USA (No11) v Croatia (No16)
Venue: Tualatin Hills Tennis Center, Portland, USA, on outdoor hard
Jack Sock bt Marin Cilic 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
John Isner bt Borna Coric 6-4, 6-4, 6-3
Marin Cilic/Ivan Dodig bt Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4
John Isner to play Marin Cilic
Jack Sock to play Borna Coric
France to play winner in USA or Croatia