The venue looked very different yesterday to what it will look like tomorrow, when over 8,000 will cram in to cheer on Great Britain in the first of three days of Davis Cup semi-final battle. It will be a partisan and – the Murray brothers et al hope – an intimidating place for the visiting side. If not then what is the point of having home advantage?
But Australia’s tennis players are eager to avoid going down as meekly as their cricketing counterparts did earlier this summer in the Ashes. This was the narrative at least one Australian journalist attempted to flesh-out yesterday. Inconveniently there are two Scots in a GB team captained by someone who learned to play tennis in nearby Clarkston. To be fair, this was noted by the journalist in question.
“But in the past the English cricket team has not had a lot of English in it either,” noted a caustic Lleyton Hewitt yesterday, with an early winning return.
The feisty veteran was on form as he approaches the last lap of his career. He intends to call it a day after the Australian Open at the start of next year. What better way to bring his career to a climax than by helping Australia qualify for their first final since 2003 – the year defending champion Hewitt was memorably knocked out of Wimbledon in the first round.
He struggled with that particular burden before making amends by contributing to Australia’s last Davis Cup title against Spain in Melbourne. Now Hewitt hopes Andy Murray could suffer from having to carry home hopes on his shoulders. It is perhaps fanciful on the part of Australia to infer that this might present a problem for someone who has passed greater tests of nerve many times previously in his career. But it was not surprising they should resort to this tactic so early in the countdown. There is still one more press conference to come today, after the draw takes place. Then battle will commence in an arena that has been re-jigged to accommodate the numbers wishing to attend, with Andy Murray clearly the main attraction.
“A lot of the pressure is obviously on Andy,” stressed Hewitt yesterday. “Whoever gets the opportunity to take him on on day one really has nothing to lose. You can go out there free-swinging and really play your game. I think Andy pretty much has to win that match. It is going to be a big rubber for them.”
As expected, Murray all but snorted with disdain when the idea he might wilt was put to him later. He has, he reported, had five days of complete rest since returning home after his disappointing fourth round exit to Kevin Anderson at the US Open. Murray also confirmed he had driven up to Scotland from his home in Surrey himself. Was this stressful? “I would not have driven had I found it stressful,” he said.
Murray was almost as dismissive when informed of Hewitt’s suggestion that the Scot would be the one operating under the greatest pressure.
“I wouldn’t say it’s all on me,” he said. “We’ve got into this position by everyone in the team playing their part. I think there’s pressure on everybody. It’s obviously Lleyton’s last chance to win the Davis Cup – he’ll be feeling pressure as well. All of the players on his team will be feeling the same way. They have some young players that won’t have played in an atmosphere like this before either.”
Murray did accept that “the pressure is on us as well because everyone views this as a good opportunity”. Great Britain have not reached a Davis Cup final since 1978. Murray stressed he is ready to do everything required to wrestle victory from Australia – including playing all three days, if required.
“It depends on what happens, that’s the reality,” he said. “We could be 2-0 up after the first day and that changes things, 2-0 down changes things. Regardless of whether or not I win or lose my match on the first day, if I play for four-and-a-half or five hours, it’s tough, clearly, to play the following day and then back it up on Sunday.”
Australia captain Wally Masur admitted one of their tactics is to go on the attack against Andy Murray. They will try to take advantage of any weariness if the Scot is asked to take the strain each day. “We’ve got all the respect in the world for him,” said Masur. “We look at every match as an opportunity, there’s no doubt about that. If Andy is going to play three days then that’s part and parcel of Davis Cup – this guy’s [Hewitt] done it on numerous occasions. It’s not easy so, yes, that’s part of our focus.”
Much could also depend on 19 year old Thanasi Kokkinakis, one of Australia’s great hopes, who could be the one charged with facing Murray tomorrow.
He is an occasional hitting partner of Murray, whom he considers to be a friend. That won’t be the case if they come up against each other tomorrow, however.
“I am very excited,” he said. “I don’t know what is going on yet regards who is playing what. I might play Andy first start, which would be crazy.
“The fans went nuts here the last time [against the USA] and I would expect more of the same and then some,” he added. “Obviously he is a quality player who has had a great year as well so it would be a big challenge for me. But I would love to get the opportunity. I have spoken to him, yes – but not about the match.”