Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith insisted the opening day in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I tie against Belgium had been a positive one despite the hosts trailing 2-0 at Glasgow’s Braehead Arena.
With Belgium’s singles players Olivier Rochus and Steve Darcis ranked 59th and 68th compared to Josh Goodall at 253 and Dan Evans at 344, getting anything looked an impossible task.
Goodall, a late replacement for the injured James Ward and playing his first Davis Cup match in three years, won his first set before going down 6-7 (2/7) 6-3 6-4 6-4 to Darcis in the first rubber.
That set the stage for Evans again to be the hero after his two wins over significantly higher-ranked players in the victory over Slovakia in February, but this time Rochus proved just too strong.
Evans showed again, though, that his ranking does not reflect his considerable talent and he pushed an opponent who has a winning record over world No 1 Novak Djokovic to the brink of physical exhaustion before losing out 3-6 6-4 7-6 (9/7) 6-4.
Britain will be confident of picking up their first point today, with Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins favourites to win the doubles rubber, and Smith insisted coming back to win the tie – which they last managed from 2-0 down in 1930 – is still a possibility.
The Scot said: “I’m gutted for Dan and the team because I thought we got really close to showing what we’ve been all about, working hard and preparing really well. Josh put in a great performance, too, and fought really hard.
“It’s tough today, but we can take a lot of heart and I hope both the guys get confidence from that and a bit of recognition.
“It’s really important we can get into Sunday in a live situation. I don’t know how Olivier’s going to wake up feeling on Saturday. He probably will play (on Sunday) but maybe he won’t be able to and suddenly they have to throw in someone less experienced.”
The key moments in the second match came at the end of the third set. First Rochus broke to lead 6-5, only for Evans to break back to love and force the tightest of tie-breaks.
Twice the 21-year-old from Birmingham missed set points and there was controversy at 7-7 when a linesman appeared to call an Evans forehand in, only to change his mind.
Rochus, 31, capitalised and then fought back from a break down to win the fourth, reeling off four games in a row despite struggling with cramp.
Evans said: “I was close. I don’t think I did much wrong in the match. In parts he played just a bit better than me. I’m disappointed that I lost, but it was another good performance and I did everything I could possibly do to try to get a rubber for GB.”
Earlier, Goodall put in a spirited performance, but found Darcis just too classy, with the Basingstoke player’s backhand proving a crucial weakness.
The 26-year-old has made steady progress over the last few months, climbing back up the rankings from a low of 462 last July, and he has his 2009 career-high mark of 184 in his sights.
Goodall said: “Over the last 10 months there’s been a massive improvement in my tennis. If I compare that to my last Davis Cup appearance, it was a different league. If I can get my backhand to a level where I’m more comfortable rallying with players at that level then that’s where I can break into the top 100.”