By Philip James
Andy Murray pulled off an amazing escape at The Queen’s Club today to defeat France and send Great Britain to the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time in 34 years.
Victory in the crucial fourth rubber gave team GB an unassailable 3-1 lead and set up a home tie against Australia to be played 18-20 September.
The British number one’s 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-0 win over France’s Giles Simon sent the home support into raptures while Murray himself seemed overcome with emotion.
Great Britain team captain Leon Smith shared a passionate embrace with Murray before delivering his on-court interview first to allow Murray the time to compose himself.
It was a scene not many would have expected two hours earlier as Murray collapsed to his knees from exhaustion after losing a 35-stroke rally when already a set and a break down to France’s top ranked player.
That was not the first sign of fatigue from Murray either, who looked a shadow of his usual self in the first set and a half, audibly tired and ending many points resting on his racket.
It seemed like France’s strength in depth might prove the deciding factor; this was the third match of the weekend for the world number three, while eleventh ranked Simon had had Saturday off.
But losing that marathon point seemed to be the turning point as the Scot picked himself off the mat and slowly turned the momentum of the match, breaking that same game to level the second set at 4-4.
Murray still appeared to be lacking energy and when Simon took a 4-1 lead in the second set tie-break it seemed as if the fight back might end there.
But Murray surged again, backed by an adoring, if nervous, crowd and took six of the next seven points to win the breaker and with it, level the match.
The Scot seized upon the momentum shift and started the third set with two breaks and though Simon stole one back, the Frenchman could not salvage the set.
Murray looked reinvigorated, his change of tactics working and his body no longer failing, his first serve noticeably improved.
Simon on the other hand looked crestfallen and injury was added to insult as a bad slip on break point yielded his service game at the beginning of the fourth set and led to his second medical time out of the match.
While the first visit by the trainer, at the beginning of the match had seen the Frenchman in the ascendency, the second was the final nail in the coffin as Murray wrapped up the win without losing another game.
While the dead final rubber was not played, September’s opponents Australia needed all five to beat Kazakhstan, coming back from two rubbers down to win 3-2, with veteran Lleyton Hewitt sealing the win.
Belgium will host Argentina in the other semi-final as both teams defeated opponents missing their biggest stars.
Belgium defeated a Canadian team without Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil 5-0 while Argentina saw off a Novak Djokovic-less Serbia.
The venue for September’s tie will be announced in early August and Team GB has a lot to contemplate before then;
– Where should host the tie?
You would think it would need to be indoors for a September tie though Wimbledon was used for the Croatia tie in September 2007. The first-round win of United States was held at The Emirates Arena in Glasgow which all agreed had a superb atmosphere but the capacity is currently just below the required 8,000.
– Should Andy Murray be playing all three matches?
It’s a question asked every Davis Cup tie Great Britain play. He is the best player this country has, he is the third best player in the world and the highest ranked player left in the Davis Cup (Belgium’s David Goffin and Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, ranked 14th and 22nd are currently the next highest ranked players who could still feature).
The argument is that Andy will always give us the best chance to win but this weekend showed how tiring the weekend can be for him, especially after a grand slam. Notably, September’s tie will be just a week after the US Open. Should the ATP and ITF sort out their scheduling? Yes. But that will not happen any time soon. In the meantime, we do have strength in depth in doubles with Wimbledon-runner up Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot both inside the top 40. The pair took the world’s top pairing, Bob and Mike Bryan to five sets in March’s tie against the United States.