James Ward has regularly proved his battling qualities since making his Davis Cup debut last year but the British No 2 has rarely had to fight for a victory like he did here at the Braehead Arena last night.
Despite suffering from sickness and cramp, which he blamed on the pressure of playing for his country in a promotion decider, the 24-year-old Londoner beat Attila Balazs, the Hungarian No 1, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
With Andy Murray beating Sebo Kiss 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 in the second rubber, Britain should secure victory this afternoon, when a win for Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins against Balasz and Kornel Bardoczky would earn a return next year to Europe Africa Zone Group One, the competition's second tier.
When Ward led by a set and two breaks, victory in the opening rubber had seemed little more than a formality. The world No 149 had not looked at his best but hardly needed to be against the limited Balazs, who even resorted on occasions to moonballing.
However, Ward had started to feel nauseous midway through the second set and eventually had to leave the court. "I was sick big time," he said afterwards. "A serious amount came up."
Ward, who had to return immediately or risk being defaulted, was also starting to suffer from cramp. Despite holding on to take the second set he was soon 3-0 down in the third.
The Briton fell to the floor in the third game of the third set after his left ankle gave way beneath him as his muscles tightened with cramp. He recovered to complete the game, after which he was given treatment by a trainer. He fought back to 3-3, but Leon Smith, the British captain, was having to give him massage at the changeovers.
Balazs broke again to take the third set and Ward looked in deep trouble when he trailed 3-1 in the fourth, only to stage a courageous fightback. At 4-4 he broke once more, though the drama was not over. At 15-15 in the final game it was Balasz's turn to fall down with cramp, after which he struggled to run. On converting his first match point Ward raised his arms in celebration and was given a standing ovation.
Ward said it was his first experience of cramp. "I've played for four or five hours in the heat on clay in Spain and never cramped," he said. "I think it was the tension and wanting to win so much. It's an important tie for us. When you want to win so much the pressure builds and it definitely got to me today. I'm playing for my country, so you have to keep going and keep fighting."
When Murray took the first set in 17 minutes he seemed on course to repeat his performance in the last tie against Luxembourg's Laurent Bram, when he became the first Briton for 52 years to win a Davis Cup rubber 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. Kiss, however, made a fight of it. The law student, who does not even have a world ranking, broke when Murray served for the match at 5-3 and saved three match points in the following game and another in the tie-break, which the world No 4 eventually won 7-3.Reuse content