For Britain’s second tie in Group A of the Davis Cup Finals playoffs being staged in Manchester, captain Leon Smith opted for Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie for the singles against Switzerland, no doubt giving Jack Draper and Dan Evans extra time to recover from their excellent performances on Wednesday when they both won against strong Australian opposition.
What he went out and did was quite incredible, as well as being vitally important for the team, Leon Smithh
Evans though, was nominated to partner Neal Skupski for what could prove a deciding doubles rubber which was to prove the case as the Swiss had plenty to prove having lost their first tie against France last Tuesday.
At the end of the day Britain emerged 2-1 winners and remain unbeaten in the Group which they now lead going into the final round at the weekend.
The day proved to be a great success but was marred by the news that Murray was playing in the knowledge that he was missing his grandmother’s funeral.
He withheld that information from his team, including his captain, only revealing the information after he had pocketed the first rubber 6-7(7) 6-4 6-4 following another gritty performance from the Scot against a surprisingly free-hitting youngster, Leonardo Riedl.
Riedl turned out to be not only a resilient opponent, but an aggressive one, fearless with a tendency to recklessness with some of his shots – usually successfully!
He kept Murray at bay for a set and half to eventually falter with a double fault having claimed the opening 87-minute set, when 39-minutes into the second allowing Murray to break through.
The 21-year-old, world ranked 152, immediately broke back only for Murray to return the compliment fort a 54 lead when he came under intense pressure from the young Swiss, eventually holding him off to level the rubber.
There Murray kept up the score-board pressure by breaking for a 1-0 lead but he hadn’t broken his opponent’s spirit who quickly levelled and it wasn’t util the sixth game that the 36-year-old former world No.1, a veteran of Davis Cup play, crucially broke for a fifth time and held on in a dash for the finish line, claiming the day’s opening rubber after three-hours, 10-minutes on his first match point with his third ace for his 33rd singles win in the competition!
The crowd rose in appreciation of the great effort Murray had expended and then were stunned by his revelation during his on-court interview that his Gran was being buried on that same day.
Speaking while trying to hold back strong emotions he told the packed auditorium: “Today is a tough day for me as it’s my Gran’s funeral. I’m sorry to my family that I’m not able to be there. Gran, this one is for you!
“I spoke to my dad about it and he said: ‘she’d want you to play’. He said: ‘make sure you win’ – so I did.”
Captain Smith said he did not know about the situation, adding Murray playing in “very, very difficult” circumstances demonstrated the player’s strength of character.
“What he went out and did was quite incredible, as well as being vitally important for the team,” Smith admitted.
As regards the match itself, Murray had been surprised by Riedl.
“It’s incredible to get through that one – it easily could have gone the other way,” the Scot added.
“It was ridiculous the shots he was pulling off, some amazing returning.
“He made it very tough for me but I kept fighting, tried to stay focused and managed to turn it around.”
The Scot then sat in his chair with his head under a towel as a solacing round of applause rolled down from the 9,500 souls present.
In the second singles it was left to another Davis Cup veteran, Stan Wawrinka to keep the tie alive for the Swiss and like Murray, he produced more than a solid performance to down Cameron Norrie, the British No.1 and world No.17, in just 94-minutes.
The 38-year-old who has played in the shadow of Roger Federer for most of his career, and like Murray, is a three-time grand slam champion in his own right as well as being part of a Davis Cup championship team (2015).
Not one to shirk responsibility, Wawrinka knew he had to keep Switzerland in the tie to give them a chance to stay in the race for a top two spot in Group A, and he certainly showed why he was a former world No.3, with his classical backhand and strong serving.
But while Cameron pushed him hard, especially in the first set, the British No.1 was unable to deliver a win to seal overall victory as Wawrinka’s serve and powerful game off the back of the court saw him level the tie 7-5 6-4 after 94-minutes.
It didn’t look good for the hosts as the doubles pairings took to the court with Wawrinka returning to the fray partnering Dominic Stricker to take on Evans and Skupski. Both teams had lost their previous doubles matches.
This time the Brits settled in the quicker to take control and after just 70-minutes, secured the vital second point for the home nation, 6-3 6-3 putting them top of Group A going into the last round of ties which sees Britain face France on Sunday and the Swiss returning to the court on Saturday to face Australia.
With one round still to play, Serbia and the Czech Republic have qualified from Group C for the knockout stage next November in Malaga, but Spain have not! In Group D The Netherlands look favourites to go through but the USA are struggling and could be joining Spain on the sidelines!