Davis Cup 2016: Strong-man Andy Murray answers GB call again to level tie
GB's Andy Murray beats Argentina's Guido Pella 6-3 6-2 6-3 to level the Davis Cup semi-final at 2-2 in Glasgow
Andy Murray’s hard-man performance in leading Great Britain to Davis Cup victory at the end of 2015 would always be difficult to emulate in 2016—yet he was doing a pretty good job of trying.
During that triumphant run to the title last year, he had played and won 11 rubbers, and with three more wins against Japan this spring, he came back to Glasgow this September on a 14-match winning streak. Only the Olympics, indeed, had stopped it being more: He sat courtside to watch Kyle Edmund do the honours in Serbia in July.
It worked for Murray: He went to Rio and won gold, having already won Wimbledon just weeks before. Indeed this season was shaping up to be one of his best ever, but as a result, it was also a hugely demanding one even for the supremely fit Murray. To his Olympic, Wimbledon, Queen’s and Rome titles, he added final runs at the Australian and French Opens, Madrid and Cincinnati. It was iron-man stuff, but the toll was clear when he faced the media after his five-hour loss to Juan Martin del Potro on Friday. He was exhausted.
Yet back he came on Saturday, ready to play three back-to-back days again, and with brother Jamie he kept Great Britain in the hunt. Del Potro also played the three-hour doubles—and afterwards threw doubt on his participation on Day 3.
Of Murray’s participation, there was never any doubt, and there was little doubt that he would leave everything on the court to take this tie to a fifth and decisive rubber.
He had never played Guido Pella, who had won just one match since the French Open until beating Kyle Edmund in the second rubber here. The left-handed Argentine, a nimble, quick man, took Edmund by surprise with rather more net rushes than expected, and perhaps it was no coincidence that Murray was practising his mid-court to net transition and his overheads ahead of this match.
But then he would want, and need, to keep this match short—another four or five-set marathon would challenge even Murray’s physical resources.
He tried to do just that, firing two aces over 130mph in the first game, holding to love in the third, and transitioning in early in Pella’s first game. A backhand cross-court winner in the fourth game, and Murray had the break, 3-1, held with a net finish for 5-2, and pounded down his third ace of the set to fend off deuce and take the set, 6-3, in the shortest singles set played so far in this tie.
The second set lasted a little longer, due as much as anything to a marathon third game. Murray broke in the first, and had six chances to do so in the third as well, keeping Pella pressed behind the baseline, though some of the rallies from both were of a very high quality.
The Argentine kept up his offensive game, and deserved the hold, but come the fourth game, the pressure proved too much, and he fired a ball long to concede the break.
The set rattled along, and the nearest Murray came to trouble was a double fault in the last game to bring up deuce. But he served it out, 6-2, having by now made 10 points from 12 at the net.
All was going swimmingly, then, until three games into the third: Murray went off court for a medical time out after pulling a thigh muscle. He came back to hold, edgily, but then went after the Pella serve to break. He did not bother to sit at the change of ends, made a bold and quick hold with two aces and a forehand winner, but was limping between points.
Murray clearly wanted this over, and went after every return of serve, but could not convert three break chances: Pella, to his credit, focused well, played well, for 4-3.
But now Murray pulled out all the stops, held to love, and the hammered his returns to draw a clutch of errors: He had the break, the set, and the match, 6-3.
The extraordinary Briton admitted straight afterwards: “We were in lot of trouble a couple of days ago but this is the best we could have hoped for. Now Dan has got a chance to the job done.”
And talking of his injury, he added: “I need a break. I have played so much tennis in the last few months, my body needs some rest.”
So a fifth and deciding rubber it would be, but not until 10 minutes before the final combatants came to court would their identities be known: Dan Evans and Leonardo Mayer. They had never met before—and their nation’s hopes now rested entirely on this first performance.
One thing was guaranteed: the winner in Glasgow would meet Croatia in the final—either in Croatia for Argentina or here in the UK should GB win.
France, denied their top-ranked players by injury, Jo-Wilfired Tsonga and Gael Monfils, lost 3-1 to an inspired Marin Cilic, who beat both remaining top-20 players, Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet, and joined Ivan Dodig to win doubles, too. Much like Murray then.
Yes, Davis Cup really is a tournament for the strong of mind and body.