Glasgow it ain’t but fortunately Andy Murray is the same as ever. The world No 3 did exactly what was expected of him yesterday, keeping alive Britain’s hopes in the Davis Cup quarter-final against France and doing his best to whip up an initially tepid Queen’s Club crowd into a state of frenzy.
His 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ensured the opening day of the tie finished level pegging with the French after James Ward, the hero against the United States at the Emirates Arena back in March, fell tamely to Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4, 6-1. A point apiece and, with Murray possibly to play doubles with his brother, Jamie, today, the road to the semi-finals is still hard but definitely navigable.
It left Leon Smith, the team captain, with a difficult decision last night: does he drop Dom Inglot from the doubles and, instead, field the Murray brothers or does he give the Wimbledon semi-finalist a day to rest in readiness for the reverse singles on Sunday? The sensible money is on Andy and Jamie turning out for national service today.
“I always want to play,” Andy said. “It’s about doing what is best for the team. I’ve also had a long few months as well and it’s about doing what’s best for us to win the tie. I need to be fresh for Sunday, but we will chat about it and, hopefully, I can play.”
In Glasgow, the crowd had raised the rafters with every point played, every rally won and every rubber secured by the British team. At Queen’s, the atmosphere was very different. The club had helpfully put a notice on their website welcoming visitors to the venue and encouraging them to enjoy themselves.
“Everyone attending is strongly encouraged to throw off the shackles, enter the spirit of the event and wear something patriotic, union jacks from head to toe,” it read.
Presumably, for this weekend only, ladies would not be reprimanded for loosening their stays, either, but it was the French who were leading the singing and the cheering. Armed with drums, trumpets and, in one case, a Native American chief’s feathered headdress, les bleus were putting the Brits to shame. But, as Ward pointed out, he had given the home supporters little to cheer in the first rubber. Cue Murray to inject some life into the tie.
A week ago, he was bitterly disappointed as he emptied his locker for the last time at the All England Club. He had done everything he could to be ready for a big charge at Wimbledon: he was playing some of the best tennis of his career and he was feeling as strong as an ox – and then he ran into an inspired Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Trying to lift his spirits again so soon after that defeat would take a block and tackle but between Murray, his teammates and the response he got from the crowd yesterday, they managed it.
Murray began with an ace – always a crowd pleaser – and then slowly, but surely, raised his energy levels and the noise levels in the stands with every game that passed. Tsonga was proving a difficult nut to crack – his serve was given extra fizz on the grass court and his wish to head for the net at every opportunity was taking the fight to the Scot.
And then, from looking a bit fraught and a bit tetchy, Murray changed. One moment he was complaining about the footing at the back of the court and the next, he was up on his toes, sensing an opportunity. As Tsonga served to stay in the set, Murray got to break point. Tsonga took it back but Murray had moved up a gear. He had to wait until Tsonga served again to get his reward but, when he finally broke the Frenchman’s serve and took the set, he roared and the crowd roared with him.
From there, Murray was not to be beaten. He dropped serve at the start of the second set but broke back a handful of games later. And, once into the tiebreak, he threw everything but his racket bag at his rival in order to get a decent return on the thundering Tsonga serve. It took three set points for Murray to take a 2-0 lead but, once he had, the third set was a formality – Murray was on a roll and Tsonga had had enough.
As for Ward, he was well beaten. In a blustery wind, he was caught between a rock and a hard place: he did not trust the conditions enough to be aggressive but, if he stayed passive, he would be wiped off the court. Alas, he chose the latter option and Simon did the rest.
Smith begged the crowd to make as much noise as possible for the remaining two days. If he opts to play both Murray brothers today, his request will surely be granted.