Andy Murray showed his indefatigable spirit against Argentina yesterday, fighting through the fatigue and pain barrier to haul Great Britain to the brink of a second successive Davis Cup final.
In the end it was not to be as Dan Evans fell short in the decider against Leo Mayer but the 8,000 Emirates Arena crowd, who once again created an electric atmosphere in the city of the world No 2’s birth, were treated to another remarkable display of Murray’s class as he despatched Guido Pella 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 to level this semi-final thriller.
However, there was a brief moment of panic in the stands when the Scot, on the back of a long summer which has included Wimbledon and Olympic glory, a five-set loss to Kei Nishikori at Flushing Meadows and his longest ever match against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, took a lengthy injury time-out in the third set.
He complained of pains in his right quad but, by that time, was already in a dominant position over the world No 49, who had beaten Kyle Edmund in four sets on day one.
Murray had sympathy for his opponent, who had to wait over five minutes as the Scot hobbled off for treatment with physio Shane Annun, but with trademark dry wit he explained why he had to leave the court.
“The reason I had to go off is because I can’t get my nuts out on the court,” he said. “The strapping had to be done very high up on my right leg and I needed to take my clothes off. I would be annoyed for sure if that was me. If you’re the one that’s sitting and waiting, it’s frustrating.”
Murray had already spent more than eight hours on court after teaming up with brother Jamie to get Britain back in the tie with a doubles triumph over Del Potro and Mayer. However, the man who has so often delivered for his country was in no mood to let down the Glasgow crowd and was never in trouble against a busy opponent with obvious talent, if no real weapons to hurt the world No 2.
From the moment he sent a firecracker of a backhand winner into the corner for a break in the fourth game, the Argentine couldn’t get close to making an impression on the Briton’s serve and found himself regularly in trouble on his own.
As seasoned Murray watchers know, however, plain sailing is often broadsided by a sudden surge of choppy water and that was the case with the injury timeout, before the 29-year-old jogged back on to court to a cheer that rivalled those previously greeting winning shots, games and sets.
If Pella scented blood then it soon evaporated from his nostrils as Murray made a statement with an immediate break to heap further pressure on a player who looked utterly beaten. He was soon put out of his misery and Murray able to get some much-needed attention to his aching limbs when victory was secured on the first match point when the Argentine netted a forehand.
Although there had been talk of Juan Martin Del Potro sitting out the final match of the tie there was a feeling this could be mind games on the part of the Argentines, captained by Daniel Orsanic, pictured – but it was true enough.
“I’m surprised but it’s understandable,” said Murray. “He’s had so many injury problems that everyone’s just forgetting about. He’s hardly played tennis for the last three years and he knows his body. His decision should be respected.”
Del Potro, who beat Murray on Friday then surprisingly took part in the doubles, said: “I have to be smart because this is just the beginning. I want to play for more years, not just one more match.”
The development certainly opened the door for world No 53 Evans to play the hero’s role but Mayer, the world No 114 who has been as high as 21 in his career, was inspired.
The 26-year-old from Birmingham, who had a match point against eventual champion Stan Wawrinka at the US Open last month, edged the first set before a sudden and significant momentum shift.
Mayer began to find greater power and precision off his racquet and sailed through the next two sets in quick time. Evans survived a torturous first game of the fourth set which had multiple deuces but it proved to be the last act of defiance as the Argentine broke to go 4-2 up and held on to secure his nation a fifth Davis Cup final. They will now look to win it for the first time in Croatia later in the year.
Evans was visibly devastated when he spoke to the media afterwards. “I had a few chances but, after the first set, I wasn’t in the match,” he said. “I felt a lot of pressure on my serve. He served unbelievably.
“Getting the ball back into the court was tough and, when I did, he played pretty well from the back of the court. He was aggressive.
“It’s not a nice feeling. It’s pretty raw right now. You do feel like you’re the one who lost it for the guys.”
However, his captain Leon Smith sought to assure his player that he had let nobody down. “Look, it’s a tennis match,” said Smith. “All we ask when the players go out of the locker room is give your best effort. That’s all. Fight for every point, chase everything down.
“Did he do that? Yes he did great. The guy just played too good today.”
As for Murray, he reflected on what has been a memorable few years of Davis Cup drama and said he was looking forward to a rest – after he has played in his Andy Murray Live chairity event at the SSE Hydro on Wednesday.
“All of us were pretty down on Friday night,” he said. “You could sense that throughout the whole team because it had been such a long day as well.
“At worst we were obviously hoping we’d be going in after that at 1-1.
“But no-one would have expected this five years ago. We should be proud.”
The Scot added: “I knew I was going to be in some pain this weekend and I spoke to my team about that it was going to be really hard.
“My expectations were less. Sometimes I’ve come into weekends thinking this is going to be all right, then by the end of it feel horrendous.
“After the tie with Japan earlier in the year, when I hadn’t played a match for a while, I felt physically shattered. I wasn’t so much emotionally tired after that match but I’d just became a father for the first time. That was a challenging period as well.
“I think because I accepted it I think I actually handled it okay.”