SAN DIEGO, USA: There’s never a sure thing in sports and Davis Cup by BNP Paribas often delivers surprising match outcomes.
That’s just how it played out on the opening day of the World Group first round tie between USA and Great Britain. Many tennis pundits predicted a split decision on Friday, but when both matches concluded the British team went back to the hotel to have dinner and play the board game “Articulate” with a 2-0 lead.
Andy Murray, as anticipated, trounced Davis Cup neophyte Donald Young 61 62 63 in the first rubber of the day. The win improved Murray’s Davis Cup singles record to 17-1 — Murray is 20-6 overall in Davis Cup competition.
In fact, Murray’s first rubber win marked a special occasion for Great Britain in recent Davis Cup action. It is the first time since 2002 that the Brits won a live rubber in a World Group tie. On that occasion it was Tim Henman who scored a 64 75 46 75 win over Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden in a first round encounter that took place in Birmingham, England.
“I’ve never started a year in a Davis Cup where you can actually win the competition, so this year it’s obviously a little bit different,” said Murray, noting Britain is in the big-time World Group in 2014. “Every time I’ve played Davis Cup I’ve enjoyed it; I’ve played well. This is the 17th singles match I’ve won in a row, so it’s not like when I’ve played I haven’t been motivated.”
The day improved for Great Britain when the 175th-ranked James Ward pulled off a five-set upset over 49th-ranked Sam Querrey. Ward’s 16 76(3) 36 64 61 win was not his first over the American. Ward won their only other encounter in the third round of 2011 London-Queen’s Club.
“I love playing for my country,” Ward said. “Every time I do it, it obviously brings something out in me that's a bit different.”
For Young, making his Davis Cup debut for the USA, playing against the reigning Wimbledon champion had to be a daunting task. Murray offered Young only two break points in the match — in the 6th game of the third set — but saved them both to take a 4-2 lead.
“It was my first time,” Young said. “Everything seemed like it was in hyper speed and going quite fast. So it was tough for me, but I’m happy I got through it and fought hard all the way through the end.”
The sixth-ranked Murray, still on the mend from back surgery last September, clearly took it as easy as he could in the match. He was serving at a slower speed than normal, although at 15-30 on his serve in the fourth game of the second set he cranked out two straight aces to go ahead 40-30. Murray held serve three points later for a 3-1 lead.
Murray now holds a 3-1 career lead over Young, whose only win came in their first meeting at the 2011 Indian Wells tournament.
Ward was two-sets-to-one down, and trailing 4-2 in the fourth set, when things dramatically turned in his favor. He began to get a clear read on Querrey’s serve — breaking Querrey’s serve in five consecutive games, winning 10 of the last 11 games in the three-hour-11-minute match.
The only hiccup Ward had in the latter stages of the match is when he led 4-0 and allowed Querrey to break his serve in the fifth game.
“I think the turning point was breaking back in the fourth,” Ward said. “He looked to want to finish it in four, and then I started really well in the fifth and that changed it.”
While Britain’s captain Leon Smith was reveling in his good fortune, he was trying to keep everything in perspective, knowing that his team still needs to win one more point to move into the World Group quarterfinals.
“It was an amazing day,” Smith said. “Andy was pretty much flawless in his performance, and then an incredibly brave performance from Wardy.”
Despite the loss, Querrey remained resolute that USA still had a good opportunity to pull off a first round win this weekend.
“Yeah, (I’m) a little bummed obviously that I couldn't help the team out,” Querrey said. “It's not over. You got to win three points and they've only got two. We could bounce back tomorrow and Bob and Mike could win the doubles and I think Donald and I could take two on Sunday.”
USA Captain Jim Courier reiterated Querrey’s sentiment that his team was not down and out of the tie.
“It takes three wins,” said Courier. “We have three matches ahead of us so we obviously understand what we're up against. We by no means are out of the competition this weekend. We'll be coming strong tomorrow.”
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Andy Murray (GBR) - 31/01/2014
James Ward (GBR) - 31/01/2014
Captain Jim Courier (USA) - 31/01/2014
Captain Leon Smith (GBR) - 31/01/2014