The British Davis Cup team got it’s 2021 campaign underway at the Olympiahalle in Innsbruck, Austria, in virtual silence with the country in lockdown following the government’s most recent instructions in their fight against the pandemic.
It is always good to get the tie done and dusted in the singles and not have a nervy doubles match. I never want to be sat there at 1-1, I want to be 2-0 Dan Evans
The Brits settled their tie with France by winning the opening two singles on a day which saw Serbia, led by the word number one, lose to Germany and the Italians claim the first quarter-final slot when they defeated Colombia to top Group E in Turin.
The British number one, Cameron Norrie, sporting a moustache, put the tie in an unassailable lead when he overcame a resilient Arthur Rinderknech 6-2 7-6(8) in the second rubber after Dan Evans had set the ball rolling in the opener with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Adrian Mannarino.
Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski, though, were unable to complete a whitewash losing to Rinderknech – a surprise and late replacement for Pierre-Hugues Herbert – and the experienced Nicolas Mahut, 6-1 6-4.
Fortunately the tie didn’t hinge on the doubles as Evans had pointed out.
“As No.2, your job is to open up the tie and set it up for the others, that’s how I think about it any way. In this tie, there is no denying that France have a strong, strong doubles team and if you go 1-0 down, in any form, then it’s a difficult doubles.
“It is always good to get the tie done and dusted in the singles and not have a nervy doubles match. I never want to be sat there at 1-1, I want to be 2-0”.
That could well have been the case had Rinderknech, the world No.71, taken one of the three set points he held during the second set tie-break as Norrie, ranked 12, recovered from 1-4 down to win the rubber on his second match-point.
“For me, it’s unbelievable to be back on the team playing for my country,” Norrie, who was playing in only his third Davis Cup tie, said.
“It is also nice to prove myself again, to keep the pressure on and keep playing big matches.”
But France, by winning the doubles, keep their slim hopes alive of securing one of the two best runner-up spots while Britain meets the Czech Republic on Sunday where a win to top Group C would secure a quarter-final place.
The big surprise was the dramatic loss of Serbia where the doubles did provide the winning point to give Germany, competing without the services of Alexander Zverev, on the edge of qualification into the last eight.
Novak Djokovic and Nikola Cacic lost a tight deciding tie-break in their doubles rubber after the world No.1 had levelled their second group F tie by beating Jan-Lennard Struff following Filip Krajinovic’s initial loss to Dominik Koepfer.
The 20-time Grand Slam singles champion and Cacic slipped to a 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(5) defeat to Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz, on their third match point in Innsbruck.
Germany will qualify for the quarter-finals from Group F if they can beat Austria on Sunday, which would leave Serbia waiting to see if they progress as one of the two best runners-up.
Meanwhile the strong Russian team made a perfect start to their campaign with a 3-0 victory over Ecuador.
World No.5 Andrey Rublev overcame a second-set blip against 291st-ranked Roberto Quiroz to win 6-3 4-6 6-1 in his opening rubber in Madrid and then Daniil Medvedev ensured his team victory by thrashing Emilio Gomez 6-0 6-2 in under an hour.
“I was ready for it,” said the world number two. “I wanted to keep it clean from the first to the last point of the match.
“I’m really happy to bring a point to the team.”
Rublev and Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev completed the whitewash by taking the doubles rubber against Gonzalo Escobar and Diego Hidalgo 6-4 4-6 6-4.
For Australia, with their great Davis Cup history, progression seems unlikely despite Alex de Minaur’s three-set epic to record their first win at this year’s Davis Cup Finals, claiming a 7-5 2-6 7-6(2) victory over Hungary’s top-ranked player Martin Fucsovics.
With Alex Bolt and John Peers following with a victory in the doubles, Australia completed the round-robin tie with a 2-1 victory over Hungary.
However the Australian team remains on the brink of elimination from the competition, following their 0-3 loss to Croatia on Friday.
Italy, as the home nation playing in Turin, became the first team to reach the last eight, backing up their win over the United States by seeing off Colombia to wrap up top spot in Group E.
Lorenzo Sonego fought back to edge out Nicolas Mejia 6-7(5) 6-4 6-2, before Jannik Sinner brushed aside Daniel Elahi Galan 7-5 6-0.
Kazakhstan, should they beat a much-weakened Canadian team (without Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov) could well be surprise quarter-finalists after defeating Sweden 2-1.
The Swedish singles duo of brothers Elias and Mikael Ymer looked on course to win their second successive match after disposing of Canada 3-0 in their opener.
Elias eased past Mikhail Kukushkin in straight sets 6-3 7-6(4) while younger brother Mikael was looking well poised in the second against the unpredictable Alexander Bublik who finally came alive to snatch the rubber with a run of six consecutive games.
The Kazakhs completed their come-from-behind victory as Andrey Golubev and Aleksandr Nedovyesov breezed past Andre Goransson and Robert Lindstedt 6-3 6-3.