Today, about 220 miles away, in Ghent, Andy Murray will step out onto the clay Belgian court and hopefully get Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup victory party started.
On paper, Britain are the favourites, not least because of the world number 2, with many predicting a 3-1 victory (i.e. Murray wins, someone else loses, Murray wins in doubles, Murray wins again). However, he’s come under some criticism from David Lloyd, who was in the last team to reach the Davis Cup final for Britain in 1978, who claims that he doesn’t do enough to inspire young British kids to get into the sport.
It’s not about winning things, according to Lloyd, it’s about the passion and effort put in during the matches that inspire. Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that David Lloyd and I were clearly watching two different sets of Davis Cup ties in the build up to this tournament (I’ll cede to his superior tennis knowledge and analytical basis, but anyone can look at Andy Murray screaming his way through a tie and bouncing around at the end and be forgiven for thinking he had at least a little emotional investment).
I don’t really want to linger on David Lloyd’s remarks too much – social media seems to have battered him enough – except to say that he claims it isn’t about winning, yet as long as they’re not winning ugly and dubiously, it’s always the winners, the champions, the most successful, that inspire. It’s why Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid (not in that order) have such huge fan-bases worldwide. It’s why kids want to be Messi and Ronaldo, not Nicklas Bendtner and Eric Djemba-Djemba.
Murray has done nothing but inspire, if anyone has at all. Against the USA, if Murray had lost his rubbers, it would have been a 4-1 reverse rather than a 3-2 victory. Against France we’d have lost 4-0 rather than won 3-1. Against Australia in the semi-final, we’d have lost 5-0 instead of 3-2.
We should still bear in mind that he’s not been the only one to see us through. In the two matches (France and Australia) in which Murray played 3 ties, Britain were thankful for the superb play of the other Murray, brother Jamie, in the doubles to see us to victory. Against the USA, a momentous 15-13 final set victory for James Ward over John Isner was crucial to victory, a win that so drained Ward he was forced to retire in the fifth and dead rubber.
However, the simple fact is that Murray roared Britain through each round, and without him our Davis Cup dream would be exactly that, a small flickering of an idea we might consider in the midst of a deep fantasy. Not only that, but without Murray our highest ranked player would be Aljaz Bedene at 45 in the world and (in a comment on talent production, not on Bedene’s nationality) our highest ranked ‘home grown’ player would be Kyle Edmund at 99 followed by James Ward who is 155th. It’s not as inspiring as our Grand Slam winning, Davis Cup team-carrying, number 2 Andy Murray, is it Mr Lloyd?
Since such rankings began, only Rusedski, Henman (both peaking at 4th in the world) and Murray have eked inside the top 10 players in the world. Most haven’t come close. Let’s remember that Murray is one of only three British players to reach the final of a Grand Slam since Perry, let alone win one, with Rusedski and Lloyd (John, not David) joining the club with one loss apiece.
Now as we leave David Lloyd’s comments behind we can, hopefully, look forward to a Davis Cup tie that epitomises the difference between Murray and all the British number ones that have preceded him since the Fred Perry era.
People like to comment that the Davis Cup is a non-tournament, that the top players don’t turn up or don’t perform, that it’s a practice session that doesn’t come with ranking points. Tell that to Federer who pulled out of the ATP final last year because it would have been too much of a risk with the Davis Cup final next week. Oh yes, Federer and Wawrinka played in the Davis Cup this year. As did Djokovic, Nadal and Ferrer, Nishikori and Tsonga to leave only two of the top 10 players in the world absent. Berdych is a regular in a Czech team who he has twice led to Davis Cup victory, whilst Gasquet simply missed out on a hugely talented French team.
In other words, there is nothing easy, to be taken for granted, or ignored about Britain’s and Murray’s achievement to win this tournament. They’ve had to play Australia, the United States and France, powerhouses of international team tennis.
If Murray helps Britain win in an era in which he may find it impossible to outshine the ridiculously talented Novak Djovokic, he will simply be continuing his career-long habit of completely outperforming the last 70 years or more of British tennis players.
If that isn’t inspiring enough for you, David, I don’t know what is.
PHOTO / John Gwyuyen