When Philipp Kohlschreiber told captain Carsten Arriens he could not play the fourth rubber of Germany’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie with Brazil, there was no sense of panic.
A quiet word with Michael Kohlmann, his vice-captain, was enough; after practice they returned to the locker-room and told Daniel Brands that he would be facing Brazil’s No. 1 Thomaz Bellucci – that in two hours’ time, in his first Davis Cup tie, he had the chance to clinch the decisive rubber in front of the raucous German fans.
Arriens certainly wasn’t concerned. Before the tie he admitted that Brands had been in contention for one of the original singles berths occupied by Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer. “I know him very well,” he said. “I have seen him play many times on centre courts, playing the way he can.
“But that’s tough – home crowd, first Davis Cup tie, to win the deciding match.”
Brands started his Davis Cup career on day two alongside fellow debutant Martin Emmrich, a winner of two ATP doubles titles in 2013. They were not expected to beat Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in the doubles rubber, but it gave them a taste of the added pressure that comes with representing your nation and playing for your team-mates.
Brands had struggled to contain his nerves, but the experience paid dividends for him just 24 hours later. “I had to focus," he said of his reaction to the news. "I called my coach at home and we had a good talk.”
Germany came into the play-off as clear favourites to defend their World Group status against a Brazil side anchored by Bellucci, whose departure from the world’s top 100 follows injuries and a poor run of form in 2013. To make matters worse, he arrived in Germany nursing a right shoulder injury that worsened as the week progressed.
“We have two doubles players and two singles players – we have no options like Germany had, but it happens,” Bellucci conceded, before adding that he may have played his last tennis of the season. “When you’re playing for your country you have to manage these kind of things.”
Brazil captain Joao Zwetch had singled out Bellucci’s second-rubber showdown with Florian Mayer as the key to springing an upset in Ulm, but had his No. 1 been fully fit he would still have struggled to contain a lifetime-best Davis Cup performance from the German No. 2, who ran away with a 64 61 62 win. He returned to finish the tie with an entertaining 64 64 victory against Rogerio Dutra Silva, who had battled valiantly against Kohlschreiber on day one.
In the end, though, it was the depth of the German team that made the difference – both among the players and the support crew. Following the whitewash in Argentina back in February, Arriens built a strong network around him in Ulm: from his coaches, doctors and physios, through to practice partner Maximilian Marterer. The 18-year-old spent more time on court than any other player in the build-up to the tie, preparing his team-mates for fellow left-hander Bellucci in exchange for the invaluable experience of training with the team.
At the end of a sterling display, Brands endured a torrid time serving out the match against Bellucci, a game he described as “a mess” – but he kept his head and sealed the 64 62 63 win, draping himself in a German flag before embracing Arriens back at the chair.
“That’s tennis – you have to keep playing, every point,” said Brands of his day's work. “That was my job, and I did it – quite well.”