GREAT Britain did not book a place in their first Davis Cup final for the first time since 1978 with their doubles victory at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow yesterday but they made sure that although there is still much work to do, the task they are left with falls into the realms of the possible.
Leading 2-1, they now need just one victory in today’s two singles rubbers, with all hopes again heaped on Andy Murray’s shoulders. But he showed yesterday just how much this tournament means to him.
He had been emotional at Queen’s Club last month when he and his team-mates found a way past France and into the final four, and after a match he admitted had been as draining emotionally as it was physically he bounced about the court like Tigger after too many red Smarties.
Behind him, older brother Jamie sat stretched out on the court-side sofa, his shirt and shoes stripped off, simply soaking it all in.
All around them there was bedlam as the passionate home crowd celebrated the brothers’ five-set doubles success over a dogged and difficult-to-dismiss Australian pairing of Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth, who had pushed them all the way to their 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 triumph.
This wasn’t just a tennis match. There was, obviously tennis, in fact there was a dramatic five sets of it and some of it was glorious. It was also definitely a contest as all four combatants shunned the notion of defeat for as long as possible. But it was so much more. There were times when it was like the Queen’s Jubilee after a few too many bevvies. On other occasions it careered, comically, into pantomime territory with the wacky outfits, the contrived villains and the increasingly inclusive audience participation, including booing and jeering.
It was tennis with its heart on its sleeve.
Skipping out for what proved to be the final game of the day, Jamie Murray gestured to the support, waving his arms to whip them up into even more of a frenzy. At that stage it hardly seemed possible, the poor chair umpire fighting gamely and forlornly all day to introduce a degree of decorum to an arena infused with patriotic fervour and nerve-shredding tension.
But a few minutes later and the homegrown heroes had delivered, and the volume was cranked up even further as all the anguish, the highs and the lows were exhaled as one.
Up against a powerful server like Groth and with a two-time Davis Cup winner like Hewitt determined to dismiss the limitations of a 34- year-old body and charge down shot after shot, it had been a slow start from the British boys.
Andy, fresh from his swift dismissal of Thanasi Kokkinakis in the singles on Friday, was taking time to adjust to the different demands of doubles play and Jamie Murray’s serve was broken in the fifth game, the older brother dogged at the front of the court before finally sending a tricky overhead shot into the net.
The strength in the Murray partnership isn’t just their brotherly bond or their shared desire to succeed, they complement each other’s strengths.
One is a world renowned returner, the other possessed of cat-like reflexes and strong flexible wrists, which make him mercurial at the net. It means that although the Murrays lost the first set, an outcome which led to a chest bump and a bit of hollering from their Aussie rivals, they were always going to come back.
Grand slam titles don’t come easily and this pair know how to graft.
Digging deep, they found a chink in Groth’s armour. Having taken just one point from him in his first two service games, they very nearly broke him at the end of the first set. But good things come to those who wait and those who keep chipping away. They found the breakthrough in the sixth game of the second set to level the score as they headed into the third.
The momentum swung back in the visitors’ favour, rattling off three games in a row, but such was the ebb and flow, Great Britain refused to panic, and finding a weakness in the Hewitt service they finally got the break back before adding another break to wrap that one up 6-4.
The success was well deserved and well celebrated but it did not come easy as Australia again came back at them, getting their noses in front in a fourth set that proved to be a battle royal, with line calls booed, tight decisions challenged and a tiebreak eventually ending in Australia’s favour.
Great Britain were down but not broken, and roared on by the home crowd, to such an extent that even Andy had to appeal for a bit more quiet so he could hear the serve and enhance his chances of making a telling return.
A spirited start to the final set was enough to see them through but it was a massive effort.
A massive effort appreciated by all in the Emirates but one which will make recovery difficult ahead of today’s key singles match. There is still much work to do but it is a mountain that can certainly be scaled