Britain close in at the double
Britain took a step closer to their first Davis Cup victory for three years when Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski gave John Lloyd's team a 2-1 lead after the second day of their Europe Africa Zone Group Two tie against Lithuania in Vilnius yesterday. The Britons beat Laurynas Grigelis and Dovydas Sakinis 6-0 6-7 7-5 6-3, which means that one victory from today's reverse singles would give the team their first taste of success since Tim Henman and Andy Murray led the way in a 4-1 victory over Croatia at Wimbledon in 2007.
Fleming and Skupski, aged 25 and 26 respectively, were making their Davis Cup debut as a pair, but their experience told against 18-year-old Grigelis and 17-year-old Sakinis. Nevertheless, after the Britons had won the first set in just 19 minutes the home pair fought back well, taking the second-set tie-break 7-2.
The tight third set was won when Grigelis dropped his serve in the 12th game by serving a double fault. The fourth set turned when Sakinas was broken in the sixth game for the first time since the first set. Skupski, who held his serve throughout, crowned his first appearance in the competition by serving out for victory.
Now it will be down to James Ward or Dan Evans to secure the third point that Britain need to win the tie. Ward faces the tougher task in today's first match against Ricardas Berankis, who as the world No 198, is the highest-ranked singles player in the tie. Nevertheless, the former US Open junior champion needed four hours and five sets to beat Evans on Friday, while Ward, the world No 250, enjoyed a more comfortable victory, beating Grigelis in straight sets.
If the tie goes to a fifth rubber, Evans should fancy his chances of beating Grigelis. The world No 252, who gave a spirited display against Berankis, is ranked 269 places higher than his opponent, who has never played on the main tour and has won only two matches at Challenger level.
"It's a nice feeling to be ahead going into the final day," Lloyd said. "I'm feeling very good. I expected this scoreline after two days. I would have loved to have 3-0, but plans are still where they are."
While beating Lithuania in what is effectively the Davis Cup's third division might seem little cause for celebration, Lloyd would view it as an important first step on the road back to respectability. Without Murray, who opted to sit out this tie and concentrate on preparations for his next tournament in Indian Wells, Britain's current status is a reflection of the country's lack of strength in depth.
Given that the next tie will be staged on the weekend after Wimbledon, Britain may well have to do without Murray again. The winners here go into a second-round tie against Ireland – a third victory would be required in September to earn promotion back to Group One – while the losers play off against Turkey to decide who will be relegated to Group Three.
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