By Matt Roberts
With an inch-perfect lob over David Goffin at the end of a pulsating rally and 2h 54min of enthralling tennis, Andy Murray clinched Great Britain’s first Davis Cup title in 79 years.
The Great Briton has won some big titles in his time, but he’s surely never been as overcome with emotion as he was on Sunday. His falling to the ground – in victory, exhaustion, disbelief and joy – was the culmination of an extraordinary year that has seen him go undefeated in the competition. To win the Davis Cup a team needs to accumulate 12 World Group points in a calendar year. Andy Murray contributed 11 of those 12 points for Britain in 2015 – that’s officially the best individual run in the 115-year history of the event.
In the end the final in Ghent, Britain’s first for 37 years and Belgium’s first for 111 years, followed the script.
Kyle Edmund – surely a mainstay in this team for many years to come – performed admirably on his debut, using his sledgehammer forehand to give Goffin a scare in the opening rubber before ultimately losing in five.
It was then over to Andy. The British number one saw off the plucky challenge of Ruben Bemelmans to bring the tie level. Then, on Saturday, he combined forces with his brother Jamie to win a crucial point in an absorbing doubles match before overcoming Goffin and a raucous crowd in the singles on Sunday to become the first man to win three live rubbers in the final since Pete Sampras did it 20 years ago. The world No. 16 played about as well as he can, but he was no match for Murray who used his full repertoire of imagination, touch and power to nullify the threat and secure a straight-sets win.
And yet how implausible all this would have seemed just a few years ago.
In March 2010, Britain sunk to an all-time low following a 3-2 loss to tennis minnows Lithuania in Vilnius. It was the team’s fifth consecutive defeat and Captain John Lloyd resigned a week later.
It was at this uncertain juncture that Leon Smith was appointed Lloyd’s successor. He was thrown in at the deep end – his first tie being a relegation play-off against Turkey. Fortunately, the new era began in straightforward fashion as the team of James Ward, Jamie Baker, Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski completed a whitewash on the grass at Eastbourne.
However, with Leon Smith’s reign in its infancy and Britain still languishing in lowly depths, it was impossible to contemplate winning the event within five years. Even more so because, on many occasions, Andy Murray opted out of competing – he quite rightly felt that it was time for others to step up to the plate and create a platform on which he could build.
But since then, the rise to No.1 from No.45 has been meteoric. In fact, Britain’s emergence from the Davis Cup abyss has been the fastest climb up the tiers by any country in history. There was a crucial Murray-less comeback win over Russia in Coventry in April 2013 and victory over Croatia in Umag in September of that year put Smith’s men back in the World Group after a six year absence.
The road to Belgium in 2015 saw Britain dispose of the other three Grand Slam host nations – the United States, France and Australia. And while the journey to get back into the World Group was most certainly a team effort, this year’s triumph was pretty much a one man mission.
James Ward heroically beat John Isner in Glasgow back in March but since then Andy Murray has stretched every sinew in his body to help Britain win this title. His 11-0 record is unprecedented and mind-blowing. In golf, Ian Poulter is so often described as Europe’s postman for his Ryder Cup heroics. In tennis, Andy Murray is most definitely Britain’s postman. Time and again he’s delivered under the most intense pressure.
Prior to the final, former player David Lloyd accused Murray of not doing enough to promote the growth of tennis in Britain. Sorry, what? Andy Murray couldn’t be doing more for British tennis.
Operating in an era which contains three of the greatest players of all time, Murray is emulating Fred Perry and inspiring people to pick up a racket.
An impressive 2015 campaign has him sitting second in the world rankings and he’s already one of Britain’s most decorated athletes. In 2012 he became the first British man to win a major for 76 years. In 2013 he ended the nation’s 77 year wait for a British male winner at Wimbledon. By winning tennis’ biggest team competition, Murray joins Andre Agassi, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Rafael Nadal as the only men in the Open Era to have won multiple slams, Olympic singles gold and the Davis Cup.
What’s more, if Murray’s on court magic wasn’t enough, he’s a thoroughly decent human being off it, too. Following his victory on Sunday, Murray made a point to rush to the net and console Goffin and Johan Van Herck, the Belgian Captain, before joining in with the celebrations.
In the past, we’ve seen that winning the Davis Cup can have a springboard effect; Rafa Nadal was a formidable force in 2005 following his starring role in Spain’s victory over the United States in 2004 and Novak Djokovic’s remarkable 2011 season was ignited by leading Serbia to Davis Cup glory in 2010.
It remains to be seen whether Sunday’s win will propel Murray to even greater heights. Like for his Big 4 compatriots, it might just be the spark he needs to go on a major-winning tear in 2016.
Photographs: Marianne Bevis via Flickr