Linlithgow player Colin Fleming dedicated the doubles victory that kept Great Britain’s hopes of beating Russia alive to absent team-mate Ross Hutchins – “the most positive guy I’ve ever met”.
The pair had won the doubles rubber in Britain’s previous three Davis Cup ties, but Hutchins has been forced to take a break from tennis while he receives treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer. The 28-year-old spent the early part of the week with the team at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena and was given a role analysing the Russians by captain Leon Smith ahead of the tie, but headed back to London on Thursday for his seventh round of chemotherapy.
Wimbledon champion Jonny Marray took Hutchins’ place for this tie and he and Fleming swept aside Russia’s Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 29 minutes to reduce Britain’s deficit to 2-1 heading into today’s reverse singles.
Fleming said: “Ross is a good friend of all of ours in the team. I speak to him every day. When I’m out there playing I’m very focused on what’s happening but at the end it just seemed right. It was nice to send a little message to him because I knew he’d be watching at home.
“He’s doing well. Obviously he’s going through a tough time in his life but I think it’s going as well as he really could have hoped.”
For Marray, it was a chance to make his debut in the competition, at the age of 32 and nine years after he was first named in a British team.
The Yorkshireman said: “It was great fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. To get the opportunity to represent your country is fantastic, especially at such a late stage in my career.
“I always knew it would be difficult to force my way into the team, but obviously, with Ross’ situation, I’ve had the opportunity and I really enjoyed it.”
Fleming and Marray are both ranked in the top 30 in the world in doubles and have been playing together on the ATP Tour, albeit not as much as they would have liked because of Marray’s recent calf injury. Kunitsyn and debutant Baluda are both principally singles players, and captain Shamil Tarpischev did have the option to bring in number one Dmitry Tursunov but decided to stick with his original selection. They were quickly behind, Marray and Fleming’s superior doubles skills helping them win five games in a row to take the first set.
The Russians rallied in the second after going a break behind but offered little threat to their opponents’ serves – neither Fleming nor Marray was taken to deuce in the whole match – and the decider was largely one-way traffic.
Marray and Fleming are planning to play together for the rest of the season but first of all will hope to cheer on James Ward and Dan Evans to an unlikely victory today. Both were defeated in five sets on Friday despite performances well above their rankings, and Smith believes they can find the extra necessary to upset the odds and send Britain through to a World Group play-off in September, but the captain admitted: “It’s going to be a very tough.”
World No.214 Ward is first up tomorrow against Tursunov, ranked 67, before 325th-ranked Evans meets world No.80 Evgeny Donskoy.
Britain have only come back from 2-0 down to win a Davis Cup tie once in their history, in 1930,