Leon Smith believes Andy Murray can be hugely proud of his efforts in Great Britain’s Davis Cup defeat by Italy.
The British team headed home from Naples yesterday accompanied by the nagging feeling of what might have been.
Britain went into the tie as underdogs, but led 2-1 after Saturday’s doubles, bringing the tantalising prospect of a home semi-final against Switzerland into focus. But, while Switzerland recovered from 2-1 down to beat Kazakhstan, Britain saw the same lead slip away in straight-sets defeats for Murray and James Ward.
Murray was bidding for a third victory in two days after finishing off a delayed singles win over Andreas Seppi on Saturday before teaming up with Colin Fleming for the doubles. But completing the job against Fabio Fognini, one of the best players in the world on clay, proved a step too far.
Captain Smith said: “It was a big ask for Andy physically to keep going after playing so much tennis over the tie. He’s put everything on the line for the team and his country and he should be very proud.”
Like Murray, Fognini won two rubbers, but, unlike the Wimbledon champion, the Italian had significant back-up in the form of world No 34 Seppi.
Although Ward and Dan Evans have performed brilliantly in helping Britain make the quarter-finals for the first time in 28 years, winning rubbers in the World Group is a huge ask. Evans is ranked 130th and Ward 162nd and, while Britain have good options in doubles, playing Murray in all three rubbers remains the best chance of victory.
In the last three ties – a World Group play-off against Croatia and clashes against the USA and Italy – Ward’s brilliant singles victory over America’s Sam Querrey is the only rubber Britain have won that did not involve Murray. While Murray himself praised the contribution of his team-mates, former British Davis Cup player Jamie Baker said: “The team have done incredibly well, but coming down to the fifth rubber it still shows how big the gap is between Andy and the rest of the team.”
The British team can at least be immensely satisfied that, unlike Spain, Serbia and the USA, they have already guaranteed their place in the World Group for 2015.