Britain’s Davis Cup team play their jokers

James Ward and Andy Murray share a joke at Queen's Club yesterday. Picture: Getty
James Ward and Andy Murray share a joke at Queen's Club yesterday. Picture: Getty
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BRITAIN’S Davis Cup team have spent a merry few days marking each other out of ten to see who among them is the “complete package”. It is part of the team bonding process, apparently, but Leon Smith, the captain, will be hoping that all four of his men are ten out of ten today for the start of their quarter-final against France.

Andy Murray is not convinced of at least one of his team-mates’ qualities, though. Collapsing in fits of giggles, he was clearly underwhelmed by James Ward’s view of himself.

“Basically everyone has to give themselves a rating out of ten for their looks and the total package,” Murray said. “Then everyone else has to mark and you see how close to reality you are. Wardy was way off.”

But the joking around is reserved for team dinners in the evening. The business of the day is deadly serious. The last time Britain reached the semi-finals of the Davis Cup was 1981 – opportunities like this weekend do not come around very often.

The draw yesterday – a mostly irrelevant formality that only decides the order of play for today – has selected Ward to open proceedings against Gilles Simon, with Murray taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga immediately after.

Ward has never played the French No 1 before at any level of the professional tour, although he is now coached by Darren Tandy who used to work with Simon, so he knows enough about the strengths and weaknesses of his rival.

“Gilles’ coach Jan (de Witt) was Darren’s doubles partner for a long time on tour,” Ward said.

“They’ve remained friends, so I’m sure he’s helped him out a bit in the past but now he’s only working with me and Matt Ebden, so I’ll be giving him a call tonight and seeing what he’s got for me.”

The big surprise is that the French have elected to use Richard Gasquet, the Wimbledon semi-finalist, only for doubles duty.

The most successful of the squad in SW19, his captain, Arnaud Clement, thought he needed more time to recover from his exertions and so he will team up with Nicolas Mahut tomorrow against Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot.

Andy Murray obviously has recovered more quickly from his semi-final and he will resume hostilities with Tsonga, as expected, today. The two have played 12 times in the past, with Murray winning ten times, but the world No 3 is expecting a tough afternoon.

On grass, Tsonga’s power and aggression are accentuated and the Scot will have to be sharp and ready from the first ball.

“He’s a very good athlete,” Murray said. “He’s a strong guy, he’s an explosive player, so he can serve big, get into the net quickly, he can be dangerous in positions when you have the advantage, he can come up with some big shots from there.

“He likes the grass, he likes coming forward and playing up at the net.

“The things I will obviously look for is to try to play a very consistent match from start to finish and if his level drops at times or makes a few mistakes in a row I’ll try to capitalise on that. But he’s a tough, tough player to beat on this surface.”

On Sunday, in the reverse singles, Murray will play Simon and Ward will face Tsonga.