The last time Great Britain fought back from the brink in Davis Cup action was three years ago. Before that, the last time they managed to overturn a 2-0 deficit was 1930. Escape acts don’t happen too often at this level.
But while there is still a mountain to climb, Andy and Jamie Murray combined brilliantly to at least lead the team out of base camp.
In front of an ebullient home crowd they produced a doubles display bursting with class and the kind of composure many in the stands struggled to maintain as they witnessed some breathtaking action and willed their men to victory.
Much of the preamble to yesterday’s match had focused on the younger Murray sibling, pondering his ability to take to the court for another intense day of tennis in the wake of his five hours-plus singles defeat against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday. But if Great Britain were keeping their cards close to their chest, Argentina went all in with the surprise inclusion of their highest profile player, sending out Leonardo Mayer as anticipated but switching out Fedrico Delbonis for Del Potro in the hope of getting the better of the British duo and sealing their Davis Cup final place without needing to worry about the final two singles rubbers.
There was also a suggestion post-match that Del Potro had bet on coming out on top, aware that his body which has been dogged by injuries and pieced back together by surgeries, was more likely to stand up to a doubles match than a second, all or nothing, singles decider. It is not clear if he will take the risk today.
It was a gamble. But it did not pay off. The pair were a decent partnership but they have only played together a handful of times and lacked the doubles nous of the men across the net, let alone the understanding that has been built up by the siblings over a lifetime. Add to that Jamie’s standing as a multiple grand slam doubles champion, the latest title coming in Flushing Meadow, a couple of weeks ago, and Andy’s prowess as one of the best players in the world, and the Argentine duo needed to hope the Olympic champion was still troubled by Friday’s exertions.
The last time Britain fought back from 2-0 down, against Russia, in Coventry, in 2013, they were without both of the Murray brothers. If they are to see through an against-all-odds comeback this time, British tennis’ most eminent family will have played a massive part. Rattling their Argentine opponents from the outset, winning the first five games before wrapping things up 6-1, the guests saw some of their hopes realised as Andy suffered a dip in energy and performance. Jamie, though, remained a constant thorn in their side. Imperious at the net, his instincts and reactions forced Del Potro and Mayer to work for every point, looking after his wee brother, until he was ready to step it up again. They got an early break in the second game of the set and managed to hold on to level matters as the match headed into the third set. Andy could be heard lauding his brother for good shots and was still doing his best to assist mentally and physically.
With the second set gone, all the energy switched to the third and slowly but surely Andy found some oomph in his legs, while Jamie maintained his lofty standards. It was nip and tuck and the first six games went with serve but, in the seventh game, the guests broke serve. Andy responded by whipping up the crowd, fist pumping and gesturing for them to up the already heady noise levels.
It sparked something in the brothers, who had been applying the pressure and earning break points without cashing them in, but with a combination of startlingly good returns and some dominant net play, they finally made one count, with Jamie screaming “Come on!” as the Argentine shot went wide.
Poised at 5-4, it was up to Del Potro to serve to keep them in the set. But faced with the burgeoning might of the Murray’s he proved incapable of rising to the challenge.
Keen to get the job done and salvage as much of Andy’s reserves as possible, they maintained the intensity and asked so many questions. In the end, Argentina just couldn’t come up with the answers. Again it came down to the tenth game of the set but this time it was Mayer who was unable to withstand the pressure as the Scots patrolled their area like the most OCD security guards on the planet. Sterling defensive work at the net invariably turned to attack, and it was fitting that the final flurry of rat-a-tat combat at the net should yield the victory. It was Andy who hit the winner but he knew it had been a team performance.
His brother helped him through yesterday’s challenge but today the spotlight shifts back on him. He will face Guido Pella in the first of the must-win singles rubbers then it all comes down to the last match. Argentina are rethinking their line-up. GB captain Leon Smith says he has a fair idea who he will pin his hopes on.
Kyle Edmund was favoured on Friday but when the Brits battled back against Russia it was Evans who earned the final point. He would jump at the chance to do that again.