Online Sport Editor Matt Bugler analyses the success for GB over USA and looks at how far they can progress in the Davis Cup.
Great Britain are into the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup for the first time since 1986, beating USA 3-1 away in San Diego to cement the remarkable turnaround that coach Leon Smith has instigated since taking charge in 2010.
At that point, GB had reached a nadir with defeat to Lithuania and were threatened with relegation to the fourth tier of the international tournament. Success last weekend means that they are now guaranteed another season in the top flight, and can look ahead to progressing further and maybe even challenging for the illustrious title.
For USA, they are facing a fall from grace not too dissimilar to Britain’s own a few years ago. The retirement of Andy Roddick has left them without a big name, and the options available are alarmingly limited for a country so large and with such a history of outstanding players. They may be doing well in the women’s game, with Serena Williams dominating and Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens rising stars for the future, but the state of the men’s game is of much embarrassment to American tennis aficionados.
Their top male, John Isner, is a solid if unspectacular player capable of causing the odd upset on a fast hard court. His omission was certainly a blow, and number two Sam Querrey has dropped down the rankings in the last year. His capitulation to world number 156 James Ward after leading by a break at two sets to one up smacked of a player devoid of confidence and ill at ease on the clay, where his biggest weapon, his serve, is not as effective.
The Bryan Brothers remain arguably the greatest doubles team of all time, but if Querrey had got the job done against Ward it would likely have forced Smith to play Andy Murray in the doubles, and tired him for the final singles. As for Donald Young, it can’t have filled American hearts with optimism seeing a man who suffered 17 straight losses in 2012 take to the stage against multiple Grand Slam champion And Murray.
The decision to play on clay was a bizarre one, seeming to play to Britain’s weaknesses rather than America’s strengths. Murray may not be as dangerous on clay, but he can comfortably out-rally players from outside the top ten on the surface, and may have been more vulnerable to a fit Isner or even Querrey on a fast hard court.
Americans have traditionally struggled on clay, although it was still a huge upset when Querrey lost to James Ward, who has never won an ATP tour level match on clay. Ward is proving to be a valuable asset to GB’s Davis Cup plans, following his comeback win over Dmitry Tursunov last year, and faces healthy competition from Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund.
However, with GB now amongst the final eight tennis nations, it may be too much to expect them to go further with only one singles player inside the top 100. Ward’s win last weekend was a bonus, but it is almost unthinkable for him to defeat either Fabio Fognini or Andreas Seppi in Italy. Both are far more comfortable and experienced on clay, with the former especially successful, winning two tournaments on it last year and enjoying a career-high ranking of 15.
Thus, if GB are to defeat Italy then it will almost entirely come down to Andy Murray. Despite the great team spirit that Smith has installed, you need world class players to prosper in the latter rounds of the Davis Cup, and Murray will have to negotiate two very tough singles matches. Considering he only won two matches on clay last season, this is far from the guaranteed rubbers that we usually see when Murray plays in the cup. He will also have to assume doubles responsibilities, likely with Colin Fleming, and all three matches he plays will have to be won if Britain are to progress.
The rewards would be sweet. Assuming that Kazakhstan are overcome, it is Switzerland who lie in wait in the semi-finals. With a team of Roger Federer and Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka, it would be a tantalising affair against Murray and a time for Ward or Evans to enjoy in the spotlight. Federer is loving the success of his compatriot, and it is a delight to see him playing and winning in the Davis Cup.
With Spain out and defending champions Czech Republic relying heavily on Tomas Berdych, Switzerland could well be considered favourites for the event. It would be great for tennis purists to watch, and a match-up against Britain would bring massive exposure to a format that is still largely unnoticed in the public eye. If Britain and Murray can complete their Italian job, then a Swiss rendezvous would be greatly looked forward to.bookmark me