ANDY Murray may at times come across as dispassionate and deadpan in his interviews, but there was no doubting the passion he showed yesterday as he competed in Scotland for the first time since 2011.
Playing inspired tennis at times in front of a raucous crowd of more than 7,500 at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, the world No 5 beat Donald Young of the United States 6-1, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 to get Great Britain off to a winning start in their Davis Cup first-round tie.
British No 2 James Ward later won an epic battle 6-7, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6, 15-13 against John Isner of the US to give the home team a 2-0 lead in the three-day contest. With just one more point needed to win the first-round tie and secure a place in the quarter-finals, Murray is now likely to be rested from today’s doubles, which should see Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot play the Bryan brothers. Tomorrow the reverse singles see Murray play Isner before Ward meets Young.
The capacity audience was pumped up some time before play began yesterday afternoon, and so was Murray right from the start of a match which for a while threatened to be embarrassingly one-sided. Serving in the opening game, Young sent a smash into the net. Then he double-faulted. Then he drove long to be broken. Two more breaks and some 20 minutes later, Murray had taken the first set without so much as dropping a point on his serve.
The second set started in similar vein, prompting the thought that we had not seen such a one-sided contest in Scottish sport since . . . . well, since Hearts put ten past Cowdenbeath a week ago, actually. Perhaps a more pertinent comparison, however, albeit not so flattering from a British point of view, was Roger Federer’s demolition of Scotland’s Alan Mackin in a Davis Cup tie in Geneva a decade ago.
Federer conceded only two games in that win, and Murray threatened to come close to that margin of victory after taking the second set by the same score as the first. Mercifully for Young, the former Wimbledon champion suffered a dip in form in the third set, which the American claimed on Murray’s serve. But any thoughts of a prolonged wobble were soon extinguished when Murray broke Young early in the fourth, and the match was over in a little under two hours.
The atmosphere at Davis Cup matches is invariably frenetic, but this time it was particularly partisan, and it was little wonder that Young played so hesitantly for the first couple of sets. Nonetheless, that should not be allowed to detract from the fact that Murray, clearly on an emotional high in front of his own folk, played some exceptional stuff for much of the contest
“I think when you play an indoor arena everything feels louder and the noise all stays in,” he said after his win. “It was very nice, and I used that energy and emotion very well at the beginning of the match.
“I played extremely well I would say for the whole match. I maybe had a slight lull in intensity, but I couldn’t maintain the intensity I had in the first two sets. It was tough, but I was really happy with the way I played.
“If he was intimidated, then I also think I played my part as well. He didn’t start the match well – he didn’t have a good first game – but I can’t say it was down to his bad play why I was in that position. I’m going to praise myself today. I had one unforced error in two sets. That’s going to get you in a 6-1, 6-1 lead in these sort of matches.
“It’s the biggest home tie I’ve played, in front of the biggest crowd. When we played at Wimbledon the crowds were big but it wasn’t full. I think when I played at the Olympics it was a similar reception there, and the nice thing about the Davis Cup is having these home ties where you can play in front of crowds that are right behind you. That’s the best part of it.”
Young, himself a former boys’ singles winner at Wimbledon, was surprisingly upbeat after his beating-up, and reasoned that there was little he could do against an opponent on such fine form. “I think he just played great, to be honest,” the world No 47 said. “You cannot really prepare for the atmosphere, which was awesome, even though the crowd was 98 per cent for him.”
In yesterday’s later match, Ward, ranked 91 places lower in the world, launched a gargantuan comeback after being overpowered by the towering Isner in the first two sets. Having served to stay in the match 63 times during the final set of his 2010 Wimbledon battle with Nicolas Mahut, Isner looked impregnable at times on his serve, but after almost five hours Ward’s fighting spirit took him through.
Captain Leon Smith has until noon to finalise his doubles pairing, but even before Ward’s triumph, Murray suggested it would be a tough ask for him to play three days in succession. “I’d be ready to play if that is what is required,” he said. “I know that playing three days in a row can be tough and these weekends can be challenging physically and mentally.
“We need to win three points. It’s not just about winning a doubles point and then being tired for Sunday.”
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