THE Davis Cup reaches its denouement this weekend, with Great Britain (consisting of Kyle Edmund, James Ward and the Murray brothers) hoping to overturn 79 years of hurt.
In recent decades, the team have been considered a bit of a laughing stock in the tournament, with humiliating defeats to the likes of Israel and Morocco, who are hardly powerhouses of the world game. However, the consistent inclusion of Andy Murray and his burgeoning doubles partnership with brother Jamie, along with the improvement of Ward, has given the team new grounds for optimism in the last few years. The upturn in fortunes has also been due in large part to Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, whose reputation has risen massively since his appointment as a 34-year-old in 2010 following a chastening defeat to Lithuania.
The opening tie of 2015 saw the team face off against the USA, and managed to replicate their 2014 success over the same nation, with Ward stepping to the plate to down John Isner in a front of an ecstatic crowd in Glasgow. The result was even more remarkable given that Isner was nestled just outside the top ten, as well as the fact that the North Londoner had to come back from two sets down to triumph, with the decider ending 16-14 in his favour. Another home tie, this time on the main grass court at Queen’s Club against France, presented a different challenge. The outcome though was the same, as Andy demonstrated why he is one of the best singles players in the world, seeing off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon in style.
Expectations were downplayed to the media, but there was clearly a realisation that they were on the brink of something very special. Australia were the next visitors to British soil, and Andy did his job once more with crushing wins over Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic, and also joined forces with Jamie to outlast the big-serving Sam Groth and the tenacious Lleyton Hewitt in a five-set thriller, rendering Dan Evans’ two defeats academic.
Belgium’s passage to this stage has been similarly dramatic, but their most recent encounter, against Argentina, represented their biggest test, and it was Steve Darcis who proved to be the hero, securing a surprise win over Federico Delbonis to put the country into their first Davis Cup final since their last (and so far only) appearance in 1904, when they were soundly beaten by the British Isles 5-0.
Turning our attentions to this weekend, and this tie represents a real chance for 20-year-old Edmund to step into the limelight. The Johannesburg-born right-hander has made rapid strides in the past year, and reached a highest ranking of 99 in August. His victory at a Challenger event in Buenos Aires demonstrated that he has the necessary steel and versatility to win on clay in an unfamiliar setting. James Ward has been retained as an additional singles player if the contest goes to a fifth rubber, which seems wise considering his giant-killing pedigree when he dons his national colours. Belgium will fancy their chances on home soil on clay, but as Andy and Edmund have both shown, they are no slouches on that surface either.
David Goffin is Belgium’s premier singles player, but Murray should have his number and that of Ruben Bemelmans, Goffin’s compatriot. It would be hard to bet against the Murray brothers in their doubles tie, particularly as both Kimmer Coppejans and Darcis are not vintage players in the more technical form of the sport.
There are many fascinating contests to mull over, but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be close.
Featured image: Daily Record