GREAT Britain’s hopes of returning to the elite World Group in the Davis Cup are resting on a knife edge following a mixed day by the seaside in Croatia.
World No 3 Andy Murray unsurprisingly overcame 16-year-old Borna Coric in the opening play-off rubber on the clay of the Stadion Stella Maris in Umag, taking two hours in winning 6-3, 6-0, 6-3.
But Dan Evans, despite breaking into the world’s top 150 on the back of his run to the third round of the US Open, was no match for Ivan Dodig, going down 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
It means Great Britain’s chances of ending their five-year exile from the World Group now rests on the reverse singles on Sunday, providing Coric is given another opportunity against Evans, and what will now be a crucial doubles encounter on Saturday.
Murray, despite clearly feeling back pain against Coric – an issue that has troubled him this year and forced him out of the French Open – is to partner Colin Fleming against Dodig and Mate Pavic. However, it is likely that Murray will face a late fitness check to ensure he is fit to play – with Jonny Marray on standby.
Captain Leon Smith said: “Andy’s presence is massive for us. On the back of him being Wimbledon champion, it’s a huge privilege to have him in the team. I’m delighted he chose to play this one. It goes without saying that with him in the team we’ve a much better chance.
“But he clearly enjoys this ambience, this atmosphere, being around the other guys. He’s so much fun off the court, but on the court, in the practice sessions, it adds for the other players around to really feed off his professionalism and quality of play.”
It was Murray’s superior physical fitness that wore down Coric, but only after the youngster – ranked at 525 and on his Davis Cup debut in the absence of the unavailable Marin Cilic – had troubled the Scot with break points in games one and five.
From 3-3, Murray then rattled off ten games in a row, only to take his eye off the ball at the start of the third, and with his back problem just beginning to make its presence felt. After conceding his only break of serve in game four, and then being a point away from a 4-1 deficit, Murray ultimately managed to clinch victory with a five-game streak.
Murray said: “The surface change for me to clay after the hard court at the US Open is a difficult one. I’ve a couple of matches left and then some time to rest. Hopefully we can get the win this weekend.”
As for Evans, from 3-2 and going with serve in the first set, world No 35 Dodig proved too strong. The 28-year-old took control by reeling off four straight games and there was no looking back.
Evans had a rare sniff of a break in the first game of the second set, but from 2-2 it then went the same way as the first as Dodig again won four successive games.
From 2-2 in the third, the 28-year-old Dodig seemed set to repeat the trick only for Evans to save two match points on his own serve when trailing 5-2.
But it proved a short reprieve for Evans as Dodig served out for a comprehensive victory after just one hour and 47 minutes, and set up what could be a definitive doubles clash.