JAMIE Murray and Dominic Inglot brought a packed Emirates Arena to life yesterday – and came close to killing the United States’ Davis Cup hopes stone dead. The British duo had once won a title together on a surface called “outdoor carpet”, and yesterday they produced some indoor fireworks to fight back from two sets down before eventually losing in five sets to Bob and Mike Bryan.
The American victory – 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-7, 9-7 in three hours and 39 minutes – reduced the home team’s lead in the contest to 2-1 going into the final day of the first-round tie. Britain still need a point today, either from Andy Murray against John Isner or James Ward versus Donald Young, to go through to a quarter-final with France, who took an uncatchable 3-0 lead against Germany yesterday.
After two quickfire sets yesterday, the elder Murray and his English partner looked like they had no hope of pulling off the heroic comeback achieved by Ward in his five-set, five-hour thriller against Isner on Friday night. The 36-year-old American twins, who have 16 Grand Slam titles to their name, were quicker, slicker and sharper than their opponents, who last played together in 2003.
Where the Bryans displayed telepathic teamwork, for the first hour or so, the Britons looked like what they were – a scratch partnership with contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Inglot’s one outstanding strong point is his serve, whereas Murray has greater versatility and reach. Crucially, however, Murray’s serve was all too vulnerable, and he was broken four times in those first two sets.
The Britons began to feel their way into the match at the start of the third set. Bob Bryan saved two break points in the third game, and he and Mike celebrated the second save with one of their trademark aerial chest bumps. But they celebrated too soon, as, at the third time of asking, Murray broke with a winning return. The other games all went with serve and Inglot had no trouble in serving out for the set.
The home team had to save a match point in the fourth-set tiebreak before prevailing 10-8, then, in the fifth, everything went with serve until the 15th game, when Murray was broken again. Mike Bryan did the honours, and the Americans preserved their record of never having lost a Davis Cup tie from 2-0 up. It was, at the same time, the first occasion in three attempts on which they had won a five-setter.
Bob Bryan said that, as defeat became increasingly plausible the longer the match wore on, he and Mike had used the memory of some big losses to spur them on. “We had a couple of heartbreakers in 2013 and we were actually telling each other ‘Let’s erase all that pain’,” he said. “This was a great way to do it, to win a very emotional match to keep the team in it.
“Those guys didn’t give us an inch all day. All credit to them – we had to play our best today.”
Great Britain have never lost a Davis Cup tie from 2-0 up and US captain Jim Courier knows it will take a special effort from his singles players today to alter that record. Nonetheless, he suggested that Ward and Murray, who were supporting their team-mates from courtside, might tire. “Now they have to suit up and be ready for battle. Maybe they expended some energy, some emotion. We have a lot of work ahead, but, if we get there [to a fifth and deciding rubber], it’s going to be really fun and interesting. It would be the biggest match of both of their lives,” he said, referring to Isner and Young.
If that was an attempt to cast doubt on the Britons’ abilities to close out the tie, Jamie Murray, for one, was having none of it. “It’s pretty obvious to me we’re a much tighter team than the American team,” he said. “Our guys were going hell for leather at every point. I don’t think Isner’s going to be backflipping out of bed to play Andy.”
GB captain Leon Smith felt vindicated in his decision not to play Andy Murray all three days. “These boys here should be so proud of themselves,” he said. “They pushed the best team that’s walked the planet to an amazing fifth set. It shows we can put out a pair minus Andy that’s competitive against the best.”
If Britain do wrap up the win this afternoon – when play starts with the Murray-Isner clash at 1pm – that last-eight tie against France will be at home the week after Wimbledon. At the height of summer, an outdoor venue would be the natural choice, but the home team get to choose the venue and the surface, and there is a case for taking the French away from the familiar surroundings of SW19 to somewhere less sedate. After the raucous support from the Scottish crowd this weekend, there is a strong case for returning to Glasgow, with the Hydro one possibility.
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