In the second round of this year’s Davis Cup (GB got a bye through the first), Great Britain met Russia at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry – West Midlands of the UK. The two sides are quite evenly matched in a way, with Russia having a huge singles advantage, yet not one ‘officially’ doubles player on their 2013 team. Whereas team GB had a great doubles combination of Jonny Marray (2012 Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Champion). However, only one match in every Davis Cup round is doubles meaning the pendulum swings back in Russia’s direction. Still though, Britain have a chance.
For the first three rounds everything went more-or-less as expected; Firstly, Dmitry Tursunov (ranked 67th) beat the British contender of Daniel Evans (ranked 325th) but the 22 year-old Brit did manage a very competitive match as the underdog. It was quite evenly matched, with Tursunov – 5 inches taller than Evans – with a lot more firepower. But the young Brit is very intelligent with his play, and can build up to winning a point well, forcing others to the wrong areas of the court before executing what most agree is his finest shot – the sliced backhand dropshot. So, there is no doubt Evans is talented, but many have questioned his attitude, this he admitted post-match: “I don’t work hard enough and I don’t train hard enough,” he said frankly, followed by “I’m obviously bad at my job.”
However, the British team coach Leon Smith will surely be pleased with his controversial decision to play Evans over the higher ranked Baker, due to Evans’ sheer grit and determination in the match. For example, he even managed to earn a break to level the deciding set at 2-2 – having fought back from 0-2, but after four hours, the Russian still had a bit more left in. This was as well as countless other comebacks over the course of the match – not many young players have the belief and self-confidence to do that.
The second match for the two teams was James Ward (Britain’s third) versus Evgeny Donskoy (Russia’s second) so it was a similar match to the first, but if one only looks at the rankings, the Briton had a better chance. Yet, it had a similar outcome. At first though it looked like Ward was heading for a shock win, as he had won the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 with a well earned break or two in each. Then, when the 214th ranked player had won five games in the third set we thought, with this being Donskoy’s first ever Davis Cup match, he would pull it off. However, it seemed pressure got to the 25 year-old, and the younger (by three years) Russian was able to fight back and win the set. Ward was still shocked form the turn of events in the following set, as he lost a couple of breaks from netting the ball on more than one occasion. Donskoy won the set 6-3, and so we would go to a fifth and final set: They both hammered at the ball in the final set, giving their absolute all to take the match, and for the second time, it looked as though James Ward would, as he lead 6-5. But, you have to win by two clear games in the final set instead of by the usual tie-break Again my only explanation is that pressure impacted the two players in very different ways, as the Moscow-born Russian fought back and won three straight games to take the match. Another twist in the final game, as Ward started by leading it 30-0 due to a couple of Donskoy errors, making the small crowd roar with delight, the sound amplified in the small stadium. But the Russian took control of the rest of the rallies straight from his powerful serve, leaving Ward on the back-foot, and he won the match. Watch the drama of the final game of the final set below.
After this, the Russians now lead 2-0 in the round, and had three chances to win it in the following matches. But the next match was the only scheduled doubles match in the this Davis Cup tie, meaning the British – for the only time – had the advantage. In this one Jonathan (Jonny) Marray and Colin Fleming faced Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda. The Brits were certainly top contenders for this one, with Fleming having already picked up two ATP Tour titles in 2013 and partner Marray being Wimbledon champion in 2012. These factors combining to mean they had an advantage of 827 ATP rankings places. You could tell.
Although it started evenly, but it turned out that the game was the only Baluda – or his teammate for that matter – won in the opening set. The odds weren’t great for the Moscow-inhabitants in the second set, since Kunitsyn has only won once from six opportunities after losing the opening set and this was Baluda’s first ever Davis Cup match! They did improve during the second, but they still didn’t earn a single break. A few errors from the start of the final set meant Fleming and Marray were able to serve out the match. They did play better than their opponents, more enthusiastically and they were eager to approach the net and played a lot of volleys well and were constantly ‘pouncing’ on Baluda’s serve. Consequently, they won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 and closed the gap in the overall tie to 2-1.
Then there is only one word to describe the next two matches; surreal. Ward v Tursunov as a rather unremarkable game, with most of the 3 hours 40 minutes spent with both players holding serve. But the five set rubber was still very exciting, with the same enthusiastic play shown in the doubles match, but they both go tired towards the end there were more than a few unforced errors. Yet, he still made a flourishing finish to the game, with a perfect ace.
It was still very tight in the following rubber of Evans and Tursunov. Evans earns a lucky break in the first, so he won it 6-4. The Russian was a little unlucky in the second one could say, or you could just say the echoing crowd eased him on. The fifth ranked Briton had just broken Tursunov’s serve, and he was about to be broken himself, but he survived two break points to hold serve, and win the second set – 6-4. The Russian’s confidence had been completely shattered by the third set, and fatigue had clearly set in as he was only able to hold one serve, resulting in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win for the shock British selection.
This is only the second time Britain have come from 2-0 to win a Davis Cup tie – the last was in 1930. This was also incidentally the second time Britain beet Russia in the Davis Cup. CONGRATULATIONS!
Any comments, and will they qualify for the World Group Play-Offs for next year? Well, Andy Murray has confirmed he’ll be involved in the next Davis Cup tie in September so that’s sure to raise hopes and cause a selection dilemma.