SCOTLAND’S Jamie Baker has been dropped from Great Britain’s Davis Cup squad to face Russia this weekend after captain Leon Smith placed his faith in Dan Evans to provide more cup heroics.
For Baker, who has been dogged by bad luck with injuries and illness throughout his career, it will be a bitter pill to swallow. The 26-year-old, who qualified for the main draw at the Australian Open in January, had not been in the side for two years and has now headed back home to London.
Smith said: “He’s obviously disappointed but the important thing is that in any team event there are going to be tough decisions. Jamie’s professional. He’ll move on from this. That’s what tennis is. Tennis isn’t easy. You have to keep working hard, keep looking to improve, and that’s what Jamie does.
“I’ve no doubt Jamie will move on to good things in the next few months.”
The hosts are big underdogs for the Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 tie at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, with Russia the winners of the competition as recently as 2006 and playing outside the World Group for the first time in 20 years.
Evans showed his considerable talent in last year’s ties against Slovakia and Belgium, winning two singles rubbers in the former against much higher ranked players to earn Britain an unlikely victory.
But the 22-year-old has failed to show the same form away from the big stage and, with his ranking down at 325, Smith left him out of the original team in favour of British Nos 2 and 3, James Ward and Baker. Evans was invited along as a hitting partner, though, and his performances prompted a rethink by Smith, who last night made the decision to drop Baker.
Smith said: “In Davis Cup you obviously name an original four but it was always my intention to bring in other players so that I could look at them in this environment. Sometimes as captain you have to go with your gut feeling on something.
“It’s still very fresh in my memory what happened last year – not just in one Davis Cup tie but in two, what Dan produced on a very similar court.”
Evans was dropped from the top level of Lawn Tennis Association funding for 2013 and admitted he had not done enough to earn a call-up when the team was announced last week.
He said: “It was disappointing but I think it was the right decision. Jamie had qualified for the Australian Open and had been playing at a high level so I just had to accept that.
“I haven’t made the improvements I would have liked but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I just haven’t really done what I needed to do like I was doing last year. I knew I had a chance to come in and show Leon how I was playing and luckily I showed him I’m playing well and he’s given me a chance.”
Evans will kick off the tie this afternoon against Russian No 1 Dmitry Tursunov, ranked 67, before Ward meets world No 80 Evgeny Donskoy.
The 22-year-old is coached by former British player Morgan Phillips, who is one of Ward’s best friends, and there will be no surprises when they clash today.
Ward, who returns to the side after missing much of last season with a wrist injury, said of Donskoy: “I’ve practised with him quite a bit over the last few months. He knows me as well as I know him. Sometimes that makes it difficult and sometimes it can help. We’ll see tomorrow.”
The only rubber Britain will be favourites for is the doubles tomorrow, when Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray take on Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda.
The winner of the tie will progress to a World Group play-off in September but, without Andy Murray, who has made himself unavailable again, Smith knows only a major shock will prevent that being Russia.
He said: “This is a brilliant challenge for everyone. This is why these guys are playing tennis, to get matches like this.
“We’ve talked a lot about other upsets that happens, not just in tennis but in other sports – it does happen.”