One more point. That is all Britain needs: one more point. It sounds like such a little thing – one point, after all – but it separates the Great Britain team of Andy and Jamie Murray, Kyle Edmund and James Ward from greatness.
If Britain wins one more rubber, be it Andy beating David Goffin or Edmund or Ward beating Steve Darcis today, they will be Davis Cup champions for the first time since 1936. It is enough to give even the hardest of hard men palpitations.
No wonder, then, that yesterday’s doubles point took such an effort to win. The Murray brothers, unbeaten now in four Davis Cup ties, put paid to Goffin and Darcis 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in a little under three hours. It gave Britain a 2-1 lead after two days of play and left them needing just one more win out the remaining two rubbers.
It also leaves Andy standing on the verge of making yet more history. To win the Davis Cup for Britain, to become the first man since Fred Perry to get his hands on that remarkable trophy, would mark the Scot out as one of the greatest sportsmen the country has ever produced. But it would be the manner of the victory that would set Murray apart even from the legends of the game.
According to the official records, John McEnroe won more Davis Cup rubbers in one season than any other man. But his 12 wins in 1982 included three dead rubbers, the exhibition make-weights at the end of the tie that are only played to keep the paying public happy.
If Murray beats Goffin today, he will have completed the Davis Cup year unbeaten and won 11 live rubbers. Only Ivan Ljubicic won as many back in 2005 but he lost one, too, which would leave Andy Murray as the greatest Davis Cup player the game has ever seen. But predicting the future is a dangerous game.
Of the four men yesterday, none were at their absolute best but in the end, the Belgium pair would have had to run over the Scots with a truck to keep them from winning that invaluable point. The Murrays have been on a mission all year to win the Davis Cup and now they are so close to reaching their goal, it seems like nothing is going to stop them.
The crowd, all 13,000 of them, did their best to raise the tin roof of the Flanders Expo but no matter how loud the Belgian fans cheered, the British contingent, led by the Stirling Barmy Army, were doing their best to shout them down.
“It was an awesome match with a lot of crazy points,” Jamie said. “Those guys played some unbelievable lobs and angles. They made it very difficult for us. I think we changed it up a bit and in the third set we started to stay back more on my return and managed to create a lot more opportunities and we’re really pleased to win the match.
“The atmosphere was mental. There was so much noise. There’s a low roof as well so everything’s packed in. We were shouting to each other at the baseline trying to tell each other where we were going to serve. But it was brilliant. It’s a Davis Cup final – we expected it to be noisy, a lot of passion and fans out here. It didn’t fail to disappoint.”
The way Andy jumped around like a Jack in the Box once the first set was won was sign enough that he was desperate to get the job done. Alas, his wish to do everything he could sometimes meant that he tried to do too much and on occasion that got the brothers into trouble. Still, with the wealth of big match, big final experience at their disposal, they were able to untangle the knots and hold their nerve no matter how fierce the pressure.
Jamie’s serve was the first to crack as he was broken at the start of the second set and that was enough to cost Britain the set and their precious lead. But when the service breaks came thick and fast in the third set – five of them in six games – Jamie may have been the Brit to have been broken but he was also the Brit who led the charge to break back. And when the big moments came, Leon Smith, the team captain, knew he could rely on his No.1, on Andy, to thump the big serve, nail the heavy return or come up with the tactical nous to close it out.
“We just needed to find a way to get a few more points on Jamie’s return side,” Andy said, “and we made that adjustment and when we made that adjustment then Jamie started to return better. He was a lot more aggressive and put them on the back foot. It was a great tactical switch-up and that changed the match for us.”
Goffin was brought in at the 11th hour to replace Kimmer Coppejans although the team reshuffle was hardly a surprise. Three weeks ago, Goffin was predicting that he would play on all three days and he was in no doubt that he would be facing the world No.2 in both singles and doubles.
The unknown quantity was Darcis. Belgium’s No.2 had injured his ankle in October and had not been seen on the tour since. Smiling, cheery and awfully optimistic prior to the final, he was, he said, fully recovered from that. No worries. All good.
What he conveniently forgot to mention was that his right wrist was giving him all sorts of gyp and that on Friday morning, he needed a painkilling injection to get him ready for action.
Appearing on court with his right forearm swathed in strapping, he showed no obvious sign of pain but, at times, he seemed as rusty as an old farm gate. For every couple of forehand winners he would hit, there would be another couple of forehand misses. As he tried to attack and Goffin tried to manage manoeuvres from the baseline, the Belgian pair were scintillating at times but over the course of four sets, they could not break the brothers’ bond and stop the Scots from marching towards history.