By Lewis Smith
Twenty-six months ago, Andy Murray guided his fellow Brits towards victory over Croatia and secured Great Britain a place in the elite of men’s international team tennis: the World Group. Now for the first time since 2008, the nation dreams of the then unthinkable – Davis Cup glory.
As the world continues to mourn the travesties witnessed in France less than two weeks ago, the Great British team, their ever-present following of supporters, and the world’s media travel to Belgium for the Davis Cup final.
For elite sports performers, preparation is key. With this in mind, how can the British and Belgian players and coaches be expected to focus their minds on the challenge ahead in a country in continued lockdown?
Those outside of sport may ask, “Why has the event not been cancelled? Why risk the safety of so many for a sporting event?” Quite simply, sport has a unique ability to unite. Last week’s England vs France International friendly at Wembley stadium was an uplifting reminder of this power. The football match was a shining beacon of solidarity in all of its might.
It was on Monday 23 November, only four days before the tie was set to commence, that it was announced it would definitely go ahead. With the Belgian government labelling Brussels a city under “serious and imminent” threat and the contest taking place just thirty-five miles away in Ghent, many remain uneasy over the prospect of the two nations going head to head.
If not for the terrible events that have plastered our screens, newspapers and radios in recent times, headlines would surely have been dominated with the significance of this tie for the future of British tennis.
It is no secret that the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) perhaps should have done far more in recent years to ensure firstly that participation is more accessible for all ages and abilities and secondly, that promising young talents might have received far more financial assistance and access to elite-level facilities than the case has been of late. However, with the lack of success achieved by British tennis over such an extended period before a certain Andy Murray came onto the scene, the LTA may well have had a case to justify this lack of provision.
That is why the importance of this weekend’s clash cannot be overstated. It is often forgotten that Judy, mum of both Jamie and Andy Murray, sacrificed so much to ensure that her children had the greatest possible chance to achieve their dreams of becoming professional tennis players.
At the age of fifteen, Andy left his friends and family behind to train at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain. Whilst a Scottish national team tennis coach earning £25,000 a year, Judy gave all she could towards Andy’s unique education by taking out £90,000 to cover the three-year cost of Andy’s stay in Spain.
Speaking to The Telegraph in 2005, Andy stated that the LTA “ruined” Jamie’s tennis with the coaching he received after earning a scholarship to study at The Leys School in Cambridge. This type of sacrifice should not be required to help provide the opportunity for our best young players to continue improving and ultimately replicate the achievements of Andy Murray and Fred Perry and lift the iconic Wimbledon Trophy.
How important is Andy Murray?
An individual cannot reach a Davis Cup final on their own. If, as some critics have suggested, Murray has carried Great Britain to the final single-handedly, then why will he not see either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic at the other end of the net this weekend? We will instead be entertained by a whole host of names who may never reach the second week of a Grand Slam.
However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that Great Britain would stand nearly the same chance of success should Andy Murray not have travelled with the British team to Ghent ahead of this weekend’s tie. Andy’s Davis Cup record is simply outstanding, with a singles record of 25-2 (wins-defeats) across the entirety of his career. Compare that to the undisputed World Number One Novak Djokovic. The Serbian boasts a record 27-7, 5 more defeats than the British Number One.
So who makes up the rest of the British team?
Kyle Edmund (Singles): World Ranking – 100.
Britain’s youngest team member at the tender age of just twenty, it would seem to tennis followers that Edmund had been on the tour for several years already. However, having never participated in a Davis Cup rubber before, GB captain Leon Smith would be making a bold call to give Edmund his debut, more so should he happen to be aware that no player has ever won a rubber when their debut has come in the tournament final.
James Ward (Singles): World Ranking – 156
Expect Ward to feature as Britain’s second-seed singles player, ever-present in the Great Britain team since Leon Smith’s appointment as captain. Considering his ranking, Ward has a respectable record of 10-9 in the Davis Cup.
Dominic Inglot (Doubles): World Ranking – 23
With a Davis Cup record of 0-2, Inglot’s experience on a doubles court and his giant serve are surely the only factors that could provide him with a hope of playing a part in Saturday’s doubles rubber. Safe to assume Smith will select the Murray brothers to play together against the Belgian doubles pair.
Jamie Murray (Doubles): World Ranking – 7
After reaching the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open during the calendar year, along with partnering younger brother Andy to semi-final victory against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Nicolas Mahut, Jamie should be full of confidence ahead of Saturday’s doubles rubber. Jamie will almost certainly play alongside Andy once again in what could be the decisive match-up.
Photograph: Carine06 via Wiikimedia Commons