Andy Murray had not even been born the last time Britain won a tie in the World Group of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, but on the evidence of their promotion play-off here this weekend they are well equipped to make a big impact next year.
After an emphatic 4-1 victory over Croatia, Britain will play in the top flight for the first time since 2008, with high hopes that they can win their first match at that level since they beat Spain in 1986.
Andy Murray was Britain’s key player here, winning both his singles rubbers in straight sets and partnering Colin Fleming to victory in the doubles. With the world No. 3 and Wimbledon champion in their line-up they will fear nobody.
Britain also have strength in depth in doubles – Jonny Marray, the 2012 Wimbledon champion, was left on the bench here – while in Dan Evans and James Ward they have improving singles players who have been gaining good Davis Cup experience.
Murray said Britain’s chances of making progress could depend on Wednesday’s draw and on the future availability of players, but added: “Just now there are maybe only one or two guys that I wouldn’t go into a match favourite against, and we have a very strong doubles team as well. Dan and James are playing well, especially in the home matches, when we have the choice of court. We have a strong team which could go far given a decent draw and some home matches.”
Much of the credit for Britain’s progress should go to Leon Smith, who took over as captain three years ago after five successive defeats had left the team on the brink of relegation to Europe Africa Zone Group Three. Murray had not played Davis Cup for two years until this weekend, but in his absence Smith had rebuilt team spirit. Nowhere was that better demonstrated than in April this year, when Evans, Ward, Fleming and Marray fought back from 2-0 down against Russia to send Britain through to the play-off here.
“Now more than ever the players genuinely want each other to do really well,” Smith said. “I’m not sure it’s always been like that – I don’t know I wasn’t around then - but certainly it feels a really strong unity amongst them all. I can see that by the way they support each other on the bench.”
Croatia, meanwhile, will prepare for only their second season outside the World Group in the last 12 years. The absence of Marin Cilic, their top player, was sorely felt over the weekend, despite the sterling efforts of Ivan Dodig, who played on all three days.
Nevertheless, there were some positives to come out of the tie for the home team. Mate Pavic, a promising doubles player, made his Davis Cup debut, as did Borna Coric, who at 16 is one of the game’s outstanding prospects. The recently crowned US Open junior champion played particularly well in his opening set against Murray and never looked uncomfortable in such company.
“Borna is developing fast and has a bright future, so it’s good for me to know that he can play with these guys,” Zeljko Krajan, Croatia’s captain, said. “Mate is also developing making good progress. This was the first time he has played Davis Cup also, so the second time should be easier.”