It is certain to be an emotional Andy Murray that steps out into the frenzy of Glasgow’s Emirates as Great Britain’s Davis Cup semi-final begins with his potentially pivotal match-up against Juan Martin Del Potro. It could be no other way after it emerged yesterday that his paternal grandfather Gordon Murray had passed away last Friday, and would be buried this morning. The funeral of the 83-year-old will take place in Kilsyth, around 20 miles from where the Wimbledon and Olympic champion will be seeking to help edge the Davis Cup holders into the final once more.
The British No 1 appeared at the official draw but missed yesterday’s eve-of-tie press conference. His camp relayed that was to pay his respects to his grandfather whose funeral will be attended by brother Jamie. The elder Murray was at the media briefing but will not be required until he plays in tomorrow’s doubles match with his sibling.
Andy Murray is entitled to be drained in mind and body with this bereavement coming at a time when his energy levels can only be waning after his illustrious but also “long summer”. A time of eight finals, and second Wimbledon and Olympics success that he conceded in a television interview yesterday has left him looking at a break post-Davis Cup as respite he has a real “need” of.
The Murray brothers made no public comment yesterday about the passing of their grandfather. In public, there was a concentration on their professional duties. These Andy Murray will give everything to this afternoon, despite the fact there are bound to be moments that will drift towards his grandfather’s funeral. Speaking about the general state of his peerless performer after the exertions of the past three months, captain Leon Smith, pictured, put it in words what Murray will bring to the court for a rematch of the Olympic final in Rio only five weeks ago – and for the three consecutive days of competition he has been listed to put his shoulder to the wheel for.
“It’s always a big ask, but we do have four players who can come in and out and change permutations,” said Smith, with Kyle Edmund selected ahead of Dan Evans for the second singles of the day, which will pit him against world No 49 Guido Pella. “But clearly the intention is to have Andy and Jamie play doubles and they play great together.
“Obviously they will thrive playing in a home environment as well. But, look, we saw last year, on a couple of occasions – namely the semi-final against Australia – that Andy was fatigued, actually maybe more physically than mentally, and he still found a way to do it. He’s a very, very robust guy, both physically and mentally. So as much as it’s very, very difficult, don’t be surprised to see him do it.”
Nothing could surprise about Murray anymore. He is so far above any other current sportsperson from these borders when it comes to his placing on a sporting pedestal, he is out of sight. Yet, the Davis Cup affords brother Jamie, a superb doubles player in his own right, to share the limelight. After ending a 79-year wait for success in this domain, the endeavours to retain the crown cannot be served by the same appetite as one year ago. Jamie Murray, fresh from doubles success in the US Open, baulks at any notion that last year’s win could have sated this British team’s cravings in the competition.
“From a personal point of view, it’s super-exciting for me to be playing here in Scotland, to play in front of a packed-out house with the incredible atmosphere that I’m sure will be the same as last year,” said the older Murray. “That has some really strong memories for us. Honestly, I don’t really care that we won it last year. We’re here to win it again this year and I don’t think we’re any the less hungry for that because we’ve managed to win the trophy. I think we’re all really excited about the ties. We know it’s going to be a very difficult match against a really tough team, but I think we’re all looking forward to getting out there and competing and playing in front of so many people in such a noisy crowd.”
Captain Smith, the third Scot in the Davis Cup set-up, was keen to echo Murray’s assertion that the desire to triumph in a final that will be held in the last weekend of November – either at home to Croatia or away to their semi-final opponents France – burns as bright as was true when they were creating history in 2015.
“When we come together as a group, you can tell that the feeling is very, very strong to try to do this again,” he said. “If you look at all the occasions, what happened the last two matches this year, the friendship, the support, the fighting spirit, it’s still there, and, like Jamie says, it’s very, very special playing these matches. Everyone wants to keep this going. No doubt.”
The expectation is that their path to the final will not be blocked by Argentina, despite Del Potro in recent months returning to the form that claimed him the US Open in 2009. A success that surely would have been the first of many but for a series of operations on a problem wrist that seemed as if it would prevent him returning to his present level.
The fact that the towering figure hasn’t had a year’s worth of ranking points means he is only the third-highest seeded player in the Argentinian team – behind Federico Delbonis and Pella. Were Del Potro to have had the top ranking, he could not have been paired with Murray.
The format looks to reserve the contest between what, on paper, are the two teams’ foremost players for the third and final day. To avoid what would be perceived as the irreparable damage of losing both opening day singles rubbers, it was considered that Argentina captain Daniel Orsanic might attempt to pull a flanker and pick the lowest seed player of the country’s four-man team – Leonardo Mayer – and so spare Del Potro of Murray today.
However, Orsanic would appear to have decided that, with Mayer 122nd in the world, his place couldn’t be justified ahead of a player 73 places higher.
Murray facing off against Del Potro can only stir the vivid, recent memories of their epic, five-set gold medal match at the Olympics. “We obviously had a great battle in Rio,” Murray said in a television interview yesterday. “Four hours, lots of ups and downs, a lot of momentum shifts and that match was mentally and physically a very draining match. I think both of us were pretty tired afterwards, and emotional. I think that showed in how we were right after the final point, but yeah. It will be another intense atmosphere here and I’m looking forward to it.”
Today’s occasion will be another sure to tug at Murray’s heartstrings. For Del Potro, it is a chance for a “surprise”. “I’ll be fresh and I know how my level is at this moment so I will try to be aggressive and change the result from the Rio match.”