By Ros Satar
- Great Britain lead Japan 2-1 after the Murray brothers defeated Japan in straight sets in the doubles
- Andy Murray faces Kei Nishikori in the first of the reverse singles
- Murray leads Nishikori 5-1 in their head to head
- Should it come to a decisive fifth rubber, Dan Evans leads Taro Daniel
BIRMINGHAM, UK – Despite Japan opting not to play Kei Nishikori in the doubles, Andy Murray looked to be getting his sharpness back in readiness for the reverse singles in their Davis Cup tie.
Britwatch Tennis: Full Draws and Schedules
There were no surprises at the end of Day One of the Davis Cup World Group round 1 tie between defending champions Great Britain and Japan, as Top 10 players Murray and Nishikori both won their first singles rubbers, as expected.
The matches were not without some levels of intrigue as Murray was playing his first competitive match since losing the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, and the birth of his daughter.
Nishikori has been consistent enough this season, but was pushed hard by Dan Evans, who has had a bit of a turnaround in his own fortunes, working hard to push himself back up the rankings from No. 772 in May to his current ranking of 157.
But this was a whole different level of encounter, with Murray leading Nishikori 5-1 in their head to head, but with Nishikori’s only win over the Brit coming on an indoor hard court at the ATP World Tour Finals, when he made his debut in 2014.
The players might disagree on the speed of the court – Murray felt it might be a bit quicker, Nishikori saying it felt like a court he could gain a lot of rhythm on.
Either way – the doubles needed to be quick. It’s one thing Murray feeling that he needed to shake the rust off, but another to make a comeback with three matches in a row.
What we can expect though is a tight match from two of the best movers on the court. Nishikori’s use of angles and depth to offset maybe his lack of power is a perfect opportunity for Murray to regain a more aggressive edge to his game.
While Taro Daniel ruefully admitted that Murray’s patient playing of the ball back to him in the opener forced him to rush, that is exactly the kind of tactic that will play into Nishikori’s hands.
Expect this to be at least a four setter, and in all probability this should be the decisive rubber, but should it go to a fifth, the hopes are that Evans’ most recent win over Daniel, coming back from 0-5 down in the decider to win it in the tie-break.
For all Daniel’s laid-back demeanour, his loss to Murray disappointed him more because he felt he couldn’t take the match to him. By contracts Evans was tenacious against Nishikori with occasional flashes of how he can more than punch above his weight. You have to feel his confidence will be up, in front of a home crowd, and with experience behind him.
But with a comfortable finish to a very good doubles, and more evidence that Murray is sharpening up nicely if his serving was anything to go by, we will be in for a strong finish.
Speaking after the doubles, Murray admitted that to finish relatively quickly had been good, and the extra match play had been handy.
He said: “For me it probably helps, because I haven’t played for five weeks Kei has played Memphis and Acapulco, so he’s played a bunch the last few weeks whereas I haven’t. So it helps me to get my eye in a little bit on returns and get a bit more serving. I served extremely well today and hopefully can do the same tomorrow.”
Play resumes at the Barclaycard Arena for the reverse singles at 1pm GMT.