Whisper it quietly – Great Britain could be about to make tennis history. These isles are rich in great sporting memories and achievements but few of them have come from the mastery of racquet and ball; bar Andy Murray’s singles efforts to date. Yet, this could soon change when the Great Britain Davis Cup team, inevitably inspired by the magnificent Scot, attempt to achieve something a British team have not done since before the First World War – winning the celebrated Davis Cup.
Sometimes we can be too quick to define a sporting feat as being historic. That won’t be the case if Leon Smith’s men beat Belgium and bring back to Britain a trophy that hasn’t been on these shores for 79 long years. When Murray finished off Bernard Tomic in straights sets to put away a dangerous Australian side by giving Britain an unassailable 3-1 semi-final lead, something which has always seemed an optimistic hope became a distinct possibility. For the first time in 37 years they find themselves one win away from being Davis Cup champions.
Sometimes a great tournament run can be put down to quite a strong sprinkling of good fortune. That has not been the case with this run to the final, to be played at the end of November. Just look at the sides they have overcome to get to this position – 32-time winners the USA, one of the favourites and last year’s runners-up France and now another Davis Cup giant Australia. Considering they only returned to the top World Group last year after half a decade fighting it out in the second and even third tiers of the tournament says everything for their admirable labours this time round.
It is no exaggeration to say that they would not be anywhere near this final stage if not for Andy Murray. The semi-final triumph was symbolic of his commitment to the cause and his quality to inspire his team through each round. Against Australia he played 3 matches in 3 days, not long after competing in the US Open, suffering all the while with severe back pain. He won all 3, one of which being a terrific 5-set victory alongside his brother Jamie in the doubles. The fact that he has openly considered missing the ATP World Tour finals in order to be fresh for the Davis Cup finale emphasises his dedication to the cause. No player has shown a greater thirst to make history in this year’s tournament than him. He has won all 8 matches he has played and is on the verge of almost single-handedly dragging British tennis out of one of the longest lulls in sport. Claims that the Olympic and two-time Grand Slam Champion is the greatest British player in history would only be strengthened by such a feat.
Yet, it must be remembered that this has still been a team effort, guided under the stewardship and effective selection decisions of Leon Smith. Jamie Murray has become one of the world’s premier doubles players, two consecutive Grand Slam finals this season is testimony to that, and has emerged as an equally vital cog in this British team. His only doubles defeat this year came to arguably the best doubles partnership there has ever been, the famous Bryan brothers. The magnificent effort in the first round from James Ward, when he won a deciding 5th set 15-13 against man-mountain John Isner, also cannot be understated. Despite being defeated, the fight and quality showed by Dan Evans when taking world no.20 Tomic to four sets certainly helped sap vital energy from the Australian before his Murray face-off.
Irrespective of the final result, one of the most abiding memoires of this British run has been the passionate and raucous home support it has catalysed. At Queen’s Club and especially during the two games in Glasgow, the fervent atmosphere was undoubtedly crucial in giving the British players that extra impetus and belief. For a nation so used to replying on just one player for tennis delight, think Henman and now Murray, it has been refreshing to find a team of players arousing this same emotion in such significant circumstances. The reaction of the 8,000 strong crowd against Australia when victory was secured was a joy to behold.
The final hurdle is often the hardest and this will be no different, especially considering they will have to beat Belgium on their own patch in Ghent on an in-door clay court. A surface Brits have notoriously struggled on (and have yet to play on this tournament) and a partisan home crowd will be the first challenges to overcome. If the Davis Cup is to finally return again to the country from which it was created, Murray will have to again excel when shouldering the weight of responsibility for driving Britain to glory. He will be the favourite to win his ties, as will his bother in the doubles, be it with his younger sibling or Dominic Inglot. Despite their merits it will however be a surprise if one of James Ward, Dan Evans or Kyle Edmund are able to take a point of either Steve Darcis or David Goffin in their two matches. It will go down to the wire but they are in with a shot. History could well be in the making.
British tennis has never known anything like it. Three Grand Slam nations have been dispatched over the last 6 months. They are one win away of from a sporting achievement few would have believed could be possible. A glorious ending or a heart-breaking finish? Based on the story so far, do not be surprised it if it ends up being the former. For Great Britain, Davis Cup history is there for the taking.
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