GB leads 2-1
Murray brothers 3-0 this season in Davis Cup
Andy Murray can clinch series Sunday
For most of the year, doubles is an afterthought in tennis. Even grand slam finals are played in front of sparse crowds.
Yet in the Davis Cup, doubles can be important. That – coupled with the fact that there are no other matches taking place in the series on the Saturday – usually brings the crowds out.
Such was the case in Ghent, when Belgium hosted Great Britain in this year’s final at the 13,000 capacity Flanders Expo.
This doubles clash was especially pivotal.
With the best-of-five-match tie leveled at one apiece and Andy Murray in Great Britain’s team, Belgium needed to win to realistically keep alive its chances of claiming a maiden title – since the second-ranked Murray is expected to win the opening reverse singles Sunday.
But the visitors now have both hands on the trophy – which they last won in 1936 – after Murray and older brother Jamie combined to defeat David Goffin and Steve Darcis 6-4 4-6 6-3 6-2 on Saturday evening.
If Andy Murray downs Goffin, the trophy can officially be hoisted.
“If you’d said to us at the start of the year that was the situation we are going to be in, I’d have taken your right arm off,” Great Britain captain Leon Smith, on the prospect of Murray playing for the crown, told the BBC.
The two-time grand slam winner should be the one to do the honors, since he improved to 10-0 in the competition this season. He was the undisputed star of the doubles.
“We have two opportunities (Sunday) to win the match,” Andy Murray told the BBC. “I don’t want to get carried away. Goffin is a world-class player, he likes the clay and he’s going to have the crowd behind him. Extremely difficult match for me.”
Nonetheless, he thumped the 16th-ranked Goffin 6-1 6-0 in early November at the Paris Masters.
The Murray brothers, as a partnership, are 3-0 in doubles in the Davis Cup in 2015 and having contested almost 60 matches in unison overall, the cohesion and understanding – a factor in doubles – is most certainly there.
Goffin and Darcis, meanwhile, had played together in four tournaments, their last outing coming in 2013. Goffin lost his lone other doubles tussle in the Davis Cup – in his first series against Great Britain in 2012 – and Darcis entered with a 1-6 record in doubles.
Goffin replaced Kimmer Coppejans for the doubles but no one will be second guessing Belgian captain Johan Van Herck. Coppejans is 21 and not yet established on the tennis tour; Goffin and Darcis are, by a distance, Belgium’s top two players.
They sizzled in some patches with lobs, angled volleys and backhand overheads but positioning and shot selection were often issues, no surprise thanks to their limited play in doubles.
That’s not to say it wasn’t close. It was indeed closer than many predicted.
“For sure we are disappointed,” Van Herck told the ITF, tennis’ global governing body. “We had our chances. At least for three sets and a half we were equal to the British team, but the experience of Jamie in doubles and Andy coping with a lot of big matches made a little bit of a difference.”
The Belgians carved out the first break point in the ninth game. Darcis, in what would be a theme on the day, erred on a return on a big point.
And in the very next game, Darcis misfired on a smash at deuce to give Great Britain a set point, which it converted.
Jamie Murray, a mixed doubles grand slam champion and finalist in men’s doubles at Wimbledon this year, was always the more vulnerable brother on serve. He surrendered serve in the third game of the second, and the increasingly confident Belgian duo protected the lead.
They held the momentum and even more so when earning a break – once again on Jamie Murray’s serve – in the third game of the third.
But in what was the turning point of the two-hour, 49-minute affair, Darcis was immediately broken back. Two unforced errors from the 31-year-old to begin the game set the tone. Darcis started stronger for Belgium only to see his level dip.
Great Britain was well on its way.
The fourth set wasn’t straightforward, mind you.
Andy Murray trailed 0-30 on serve in the second game but escaped. A Darcis double fault at deuce in the ensuing game paved the way for a break and then Jamie Murray withstood seven break points to hold for 3-1.
Darcis saw a flurry of break points in that game. In the majority of them, he struggled to get Jamie Murray’s left-handed serve back in play.
Belgium’s resistance finally broken, another Darcis return error on match point swung the tie heavily in Great Britain’s favor.