Despite a long, hard fight into the early hours of Thursday morning in the group stages of the Davis Cup finals, Great Britain eventually succumbed to the United States 2-1 in Glasgow as Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury were defeated in a deciding doubles rubber at 12:58am.
The marathon tie of three three-set matches began at 4pm as Tommy Paul outlasted Dan Evans 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the battle of the second-ranked players. Cameron Norrie pulled Great Britain level, recovering from a set down to defeat Taylor Fritz 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 and set the stage for a decisive doubles rubber. After two hours and 49 minutes of drama, the star US doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Jack Sock outlasted Joe Salisbury and Andy Murray 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 to seal the tie.
It was always likely to be the most difficult tie for both Great Britain and the US, two evenly matched teams. In the first rubber, the attacking mindset of the much-improved Paul drove him to victory against Evans in an intense, high-quality encounter on the slow courts in Glasgow.
“It’s difficult. It’s a tough one. But another good effort,” said Evans. “That’s Davis Cup, isn’t it? They’re all tough matches. We knew this one was going to be tough. It certainly proved to be for me. I played good tennis. Just couldn’t get over the line.”
An even more difficult challenge awaited Norrie, who rose to a new career high ranking of No 8 this week, as he faced the much improved Fritz, the winner at Indian Wells earlier this year who has established himself at the forefront of US men’s tennis and currently sits at No 12 in the rankings.
For much of the match, Fritz smothered Norrie with big serving and controlled aggression. He breezed through the opening set, then generated a break point in each of Norrie’s last four games in the second set. Norrie dragged himself to a tiebreak and then, finally, he began to push Fritz back and eke out errors from the American. He took the tiebreak and then had the upper hand throughout the final set.
“I think for me, I know exactly what’s on the line. I know it’s a must-win match for us. I think the more the pressure, the more I was backed into a corner, the better I actually played today,” said Norrie.
With the contest down to the doubles, Captain Leon Smith opted for the big match experience of Murray over Neal Skupski, the world No 3 doubles player. It initially seemed to be a winning decision as Murray initially played extremely well alongside Salisbury, navigating countless tight deuce games to lead by 7-5, 3-1. They then conceded five of the next six games, the forehand of Sock coming alive as they headed for a final set. The two teams went blow for blow throughout the third set, with the American team sealing its sole, decisive break at 5-5 then closing off the tie just shy of 1am.
“The only positive from tonight is that usually you lose a Davis Cup doubles match, it can lose you the whole tie or whatever, you’re knocked out of the competition. But with the new format, obviously we got two more matches. We need to try to look at the positives from today. I think everyone played a good level from what I watched,” said Murray.
In light of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, each group-stage tie began with a minute of silence, with each full team present on court before play on Tuesday, the first day of play. No music was played during the change of ends throughout the event. Despite those changes, the typical sounds of drums and chants were present at the Emirates Arena.
“It was sombre [during the] change of ends,” said Evans. “Something was missing. That’s what it is at the minute. We’re very lucky to be playing. Thankfully the event was allowed to go on. We’re just doing the best out of what we can. Yeah, it was still a good atmosphere, still enjoyed it.”
The Davis Cup finals are being played with a new format this year, the third different format in the three competitions since Kosmos, the sports investment firm co-founded by footballer Gerard Piqué, took control of the event in 2019. Now split into two distinct phases, during the group stages each of the four groups are being held in different European cities, with Glasgow hosting Group D: Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan. The top two teams from each group will qualify for knockout stages in Málaga in November.
Despite the dramatic scenes, such a late finish is also a reflection of questionable scheduling from the organisers, who opted to start the tie at 4pm. While Great Britain face the Netherlands on Friday, the US team must return later on Thursday for their second tie against Kazakhstan.
“It’s not ideal,” said Murray on the late finish. It’s not just here, obviously. We’ve seen it at the US Open even just last week. It’s something that tennis needs to sort of have a bit of a think about. I don’t think it looks that professional.”