IT REQUIRES a fairly significant news event to threaten to overshadow Andy Murray’s return to competitive action in Scotland. But Great Britain captain Leon Smith may have found a way to ensure the spotlight is not completely on the world No 3 with the left-field selection of Dan Evans for today’s Davis Cup singles rubber against Australia.
Following yesterday’s lunchtime draw, Murray now knows he has the opportunity to draw first blood against the irrepressible teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Some players can freeze in that situation but his personality will handle that fineAndy Murray on Dan Evans
The atmosphere is guaranteed to be one of high excitement on the opening day of semi-final combat, with the doubles rubber tomorrow. Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot are primed to play then. The perfect scenario would be Andy Murray being rested because the hosts have taken a commanding 2-0 lead.
Great Britain have not reached the final since 1978, shortly after Scotland returned chastened from the World Cup finals in Argentina. Hope, if not the same level of expectation, will be felt at the Emirates Arena today. Much is riding on the line as the first two of five available points are on offer, with Murray up first against Kokkinakis, the likeable 19 year-old from Adelaide. However, it is the second match, where Evans (world ranking 300) takes on Bernard Tomic (23), which can be described as potentially the more intriguing one.
Smith is aware that his own reputation could suffer with the surprise selection of Evans, who wasn’t even in the team originally named earlier this month. Evans was recruited as injury cover earlier this week after Kyle Edmund turned his ankle in practice. Although Edmund could have played, Smith said it was a “risk” that wasn’t worth taking. Someone with perhaps more reason to be miffed is James Ward, who has paid the price for his recent poor form. Ward, who has endured nine successive defeats since losing a five-set epic to Vasek Pospisil in the third round at Wimbledon, has dropped out of contention in favour of someone who was expecting to play in front of a smattering of spectators at a Challenger event in Istanbul this week. Now Evans will be performing for over 8,000 fans in the east end of Glasgow in what are rather more high-octane circumstances.
Evans’ world ranking was as low as 763 when he failed to qualify for Wimbledon in June – the rankings only go down as far as 2,208. But Evans, who is the British No 8, does have form on his side right now, hence his current world ranking status of 300. This form, though, has been acquired in the lower tiers of professional tennis, at Challenger events and, most recently, on the Futures circuit. He triumphed at an Aegon GB Pro-Series event in Nottingham last weekend, meaning he has now won 31 of his last 36 matches. All eyes will be on how he copes today. But it is not only Evans who will be under the microscope.
At a venue in an area where he has close family connections – his father Ronnie grew up in Parkhead – Smith knows he is taking a gamble. One that, should it come off, further enhances his status as a coach/man-manager.
But he also accepts there is the potential for him being made to look slightly foolish in his own backyard, even if he sounded clear in his own mind yesterday. “Although it was a tough decision I think it was the right decision,” he said.
Wally Masur, his opposite number, has certainly noted the possibility the decision could blow up in Smith’s face. He described the team alteration as “interesting”, before adding: “As a captain, you make decisions based on what is right at the time. Then you get judged in hindsight. So, if Leon gets it right, he’ll be a genius. If he doesn’t, there will be people ready to stick it to him.”
Andy Murray, meanwhile, said he “trusted” Smith’s judgment with regard to Evans, who has the reputation as being something of a talented maverick. His finest hour was a defeat of Tomic at the US Open two years ago, which Smith admitted has influenced his decision.
“His talent has never been in question,” said Murray. “I also think he has the kind of personality which gets up for big matches. Obviously some players can freeze in that situation but his personality will handle that fine.
“There will be nerves but I think he will handle them. Obviously he has played against Tomic on the tour and has a way of playing which will be tricky for Bernard on Friday.
“But he has to play a high level of tennis,” Murray warned. “That is the reality here. We are all playing against top players here and, if we want to win, we are all going to have to play extremely well. I trust Leon’s decision. He has made many tough decisions in the past. There are never any guarantees anyway. But I trust Leon’s decision. I hope it pays off this weekend.”
Despite having not faced a top-100 player for well over a year, Evans seemed to be taking it all in his stride yesterday. He made a stab at scoring some early psychological points over Tomic. “I remember when I have lost to someone, it is always in your head,” he said, with reference to their Flushing Meadows clash in 2013, which Evans won in five sets.
“I feel ready to play,” he added. “It’s a good opportunity to be back in among the guys again. I haven’t been in this environment for a while and I thought I’d be here for the practice. But things have worked out a bit different.”
He can say that again. Still only 25, he still has time to make another push up the rankings. But first he has the chance to write himself into British tennis history by playing a part in what would be a major sporting achievement. Glasgow is braced for a battle royale.
Andy Murray v Thanasi Kokkinakis (13:00)
Dan Evans v Bernard Tomic
Dom Inglot & Jamie Murray v Lleyton Hewitt & Samuel Groth
Andy Murray v Bernard Tomic
Dan Evans v Thanasi Kokkinakis
Tomorrow and Sunday subject to change