Britain are within one singles victory of returning to the Davis Cup’s elite World Group after Andy Murray and Colin Fleming put Leon Smith’s team into a 2-1 lead after the second day of their play-off against Croatia here yesterday. Murray, having recovered from a sore back, led the way with some brilliant all-court tennis as the Scottish pair beat Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic 6-3 6-2 6-7 6-1.
The victory leaves Britain needing to win just one of today’s reverse singles to secure their return to the World Group for the first time since 2008. Murray should beat Dodig, but if he slips up it would be down to Dan Evans to take on Borna Coric or Antonio Veic in the concluding rubber.
This is Murray’s first Davis Cup appearance for two years and it emphasises what a strong team Smith has when the world No 3 is available. Smith has plenty of doubles talent at his disposal – Jonny Marray, last year’s Wimbledon doubles champion, was waiting on the bench – and in Murray he has a player who has never lost a singles rubber since his debut eight years ago.
Murray said the decision to play, after he had suffered some back trouble the previous day, had been taken in “a one-minute conversation”. He added: “It’s slightly different playing doubles to singles. You’re not covering the whole court and the points are obviously a lot shorter. I felt pretty good today.” Fleming and Murray, who have known each other since boyhood, had only played one tournament together, though their progress to last month’s Montreal Masters final showed how effective they can be. Fleming is the world No 17 in doubles, while Murray is a superb exponent of the game.
Dodig reached the Wimbledon doubles final this summer, but Pavic was making his Davis Cup debut and his nerves contributed to a poor start by the home pair. Pavic dropped his serve in the second game and his problems seemed to affect Dodig, who was broken three times in a row as the Britons took command of the second set. Croatia’s top player must have been left dispirited by the first break, which was secured with a brilliantly imaginative forehand winner by Murray.
The Croatians did not force a break point until the third set, in which all four men dropped serve. Fleming, who had played almost as well as Murray in the first two sets, started to struggle with his serve as the match wore on and his double fault at 6-7 in the tie-break let the Croatians back in the match.
The 4,000-capacity stadium was barely half full. The sizeable and noisy British contingent had made the most noise in the opening two sets, but at last the home supporters found their voice, only for Murray and Fleming to silence them by breaking Pavic twice in the fourth set.
Fleming served out for victory to leave Smith in confident mood. “Going into tomorrow 2-1 up gives us two cracks at it now which is always really important,” Smith said. “Andy against Dodig will be a good match, but Andy knows it will be a tough one as well.”