A Davis Cup reality check: It’s not Andy Murray’s fault
It’s high summer and the quarter-final stage of the Davis Cup. In four far-flung parts of the world, the best tennis nations begin the battles that could take them to national glory at the end of the year.
The big question is, can anyone stop the reigning champions and four-times winners this decade: the Spanish juggernaut?
The head-to-head with their quarter-final opponents, France, suggest not yet: they have not beaten Spain since 1923. The beauty of Davis Cup is that national support -and France is playing at home -can do strange things. France currently leads the tie 2-0.
At the other end of Europe, world No.2 Novak Djokovic leads Serbia against a Croatia headed by world No.13 Marin Cilic. Across in Moscow, No.6 Nikolay Davydenko takes Russia into battle against an Argentina under the leadership of the charismatic David Nalbandian.
These are the elite teams, the World Group teams, and what they have in common is that they each draw from a rich pool of talent.
Spain has nine men in the top 40. France has six men in the top 50. Djokovic is backed by Viktor Toicki and Janko Tipsarovic, Davydenko by Mikhail Youzhny, Cilic by Ivan Ljubicic.
It is time to face a few home truths. The mire in which British tennis finds itself is not of Murray’s making.
And that brings us neatly to Andy Murray, and the sorry contrast between his role in the Davis Cup and that of the other top players.
Following the GB team’s ignominious slide to the Europe/Africa Group 2 and then defeat from Lithuania in March, the knives have been out.
John Lloyd resigned as team captain and began to cast his vitriol in assorted directions. The LTA and its £27 million of public funding came under scrutiny from the press and even the House of Commons.
And never far away from the war of words was the name of Murray and his decision to opt out of the squad this year.
It is time to face a few home truths. The mire in which British tennis finds itself is not of Murray’s making. Indeed, it could be argued that, without his presence, this furore would have come to a head far sooner.
The GB team’s loss to Lithuania marked its fifth defeat in a row -and to a country with just three ATP-ranked players. There are over 50 ranked British players but GB has not won a tie since 2007 and has not won the Davis Cup since 1936.
Even with Murray on board, there is currently no other world-class player on the horizon. Fred Perry must be spinning in his grave at the contrast between the 21st century team and the four-time winning team he led.
Murray has quite rightly pointed out that he is not the only top player to miss out on Davis Cup commitments.
Yet like, for example, Federer, he gets little credit for just how regularly he has stepped up to the plate. Both men have played for their nations every year since turning professional: since they were 17.
For Murray, that means every year since 2005: 17 rubbers played, 11 of them won.
Nadal, a year older, has won 16 out of 21 rubbers. Robin Soderling and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, almost three years Murray’s senior, have, respectively, 11 wins out of 15, and seven out of eight.
Now consider Murray’s long-term career. He won both his singles matches when GB lost to Poland last September, but as a result he aggravated a wrist injury that had forced him out of tennis for three months in 2007.
Murray hinted that the criticism he received for missing previous Davis Cup matches was one of the reasons he decided to risk the injury against Poland.
“I thought about [missing the tie] but last timeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I spent the next three months answering questions like ‘Does Davis Cup mean anything to you? Do you feel like you let your country down?'”
Remember, too, that Murray is constantly challenged about when -and if -he will be the first British man since Perry to win a Grand Slam. At least that is in his own control. Davis Cup victory is well beyond it.
This weekend, team GB comprising of Jamie Baker and James Ward with doubles pair Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski, is favourite to beat Turkey. They have both home advantage and the ideal surface of Eastbourne’s grass where Ward reached the quarter-finals of the Aegon International just a month ago.
So far so good. Baker, ranked No.253, took an easy win over world No.866 and Ward, ranked 301, won in four sets over the top Turkish man ranked just outside the top 100. The team needs just one more rubber to avoid relegation to the lowest group, where they would join the likes of Andorra, Malta, and Iceland.
Tennis is blossoming all over the world, and most strikingly in countries that have smaller populations, lower GDPs, and little tradition in the game. There is no excuse for Great Britain, wielding the financial clout that it does, not to be part of the show, with or without Murray.
But rest assured, he will be back, and on the far horizon there is a little prospect of some support from the junior ranks: Oliver Golding, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, and two British duos who fought it out for the Wimbledon doubles title.
And by the time we do make the World Group again, Murray will probably be a Grand Slam winner and a national hero.