By the end of the day, Kyle Edmund was in tears, Andy Murray was in charge and Great Britain were neck-and-neck with Belgium after the first two rubbers of the Davis Cup final. But that had not even been the half of it.
Edmund, the world No 100, was supposed to be the sacrificial lamb – the competition’s debutant thrown into the biggest tie of the season with the expectation that he would be pulverised by David Goffin, the world No 16 and Belgium’s main man. Surely he could not pull off any surprises, not against Goffin. And yet for two sets, he looked to be the only winner of the opening rubber. At which point the wheels fell off, Edmund lost in five sets 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 and left the stadium in tears.
I’m not going to serve when the crowd are making any noise because it’s off-puttingAndy Murray
Murray, on the other hand, was supposed to marmalise Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium’s third-string singles player and the world No 108, and then skip happily into the night with barely a bead of sweat on his brow.
Bemelmans, though, had not been informed of this fact and stubbornly refused to do as expected. Murray was in no danger of losing but with his flashy shots, his tricky little dinks and drop shots, the Belgian was wrong-footing the Scot and taking him by surprise. The Belgian’s play revved up the already raucous crowd even further – this rubber was a little more awkward than it first appeared and it stretched Murray’s patience to the limit before he closed out the 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 win.
Murray’s language and temper – fruity as it often is – earned him a point penalty at the start of the third set. A few choice words had caught the attention of the umpire, Carlos Ramos, who gave Murray a warning, while another Bemelmans drop shot had left the Scot chasing after shadows. Venting his frustration, he thwacked the ball into the net and stomped away chuntering darkly. Ramos thought that that was more than enough of that sort of behaviour and Murray was docked a point for a second audible obscenity.
That led to much discussion with Soren Friemel, the tournament referee, at the change of ends and a brain freeze from Murray in the next game as he dropped his serve. The blip was brief, though, and Murray broke back in the next game.
Friemel was even handed in his attentions, mind you, and as the crowd booed and hissed at Murray and tried to get under his skin as he went to serve, the German referee told them to keep it down. They did not listen when a few moments later their man held a set point on the Murray serve – and Murray did not care who was listening when he let fly with a few pithy phrases having saved that break point and then going on to break the Belgian in the next game.
“I didn’t think the crowd crossed the line, to be honest,” Murray said. “But as the server, I’m not going to serve when the crowd are making any noise because it’s off-putting.
“With the warnings, I wasn’t aware I’d been given the first warning. I didn’t hear it and I had no idea. So when I lost the point, I just went up and asked the umpire why. He said, ‘For a second warning’. I didn’t know I had the first one, so it was a bit confusing.”
A couple of minutes later, he had silenced the local supporters entirely as he served out for the match. If the final was bringing the best out of Bemelmans, it was bringing the warrior to the fore in Murray.
For Edmund, his debut was, ultimately, heart-breaking. To be trusted with winning the first point in the first rubber was a huge vote of confidence from his captain; to cruise to a two-set lead against a man ranked 84 places higher than him puffed out his chest with pride and made his pulse race a little faster. He was clattering his forehand and looking for all the world like a man who belonged in this rarefied atmosphere of elite tennis.
But for that brilliant start to disintegrate and for him to end the match exhausted, with leaden legs and playing like a plank, was more than he could bear. He sat with a towel over his head at the end, waiting desperately for the moment he could run for the locker room and hide.
“On paper, I was not supposed to win,” he said. “But we’re playing on a clay court. I believed I could win. You could see that the way I was going in the first two sets. I knew I could win.
“That’s probably why I was upset at the end because I had the chance to beat him. I was two sets to love up. I was just more disappointed at the very end the way it finished. That’s not the way you want it to happen.”
Fortunately for Edmund, the fact that it happened in the opening rubber means that there was no real harm done. And at the age of 20, he has many more Davis Cup ties left to play in his career – and none will be as terrifying as making his debut in Britain’s first final in 37 years.