Britain and Lithuania were tied at 1-1 in their Davis Cup match in Vilnius last night, but on the balance of play it was John Lloyd's team who held a marginal advantage.
James Ward enjoyed an emphatic 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over Laurynas Grigelis, while Dan Evans was far from disgraced in going down 6-1, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 to Ricardas Berankis, a former world junior No 1 who is the highest-ranked singles player in the tie.
In the absence of Andy Murray, who is preparing for his next tournament appearance in Indian Wells, Britain's first match for 14 years in what is effectively the Davis Cup's third division was always likely to be a close contest, but in today's doubles Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski have the chance to put the visiting team in the driving seat.
If the world's 41st-ranked pair can live up to their status as favourites against Grigelis and Dovydas Sakinis – although the line-ups can be changed on the day – Britain would need just one victory from tomorrow's reverse singles to take this Europe Africa Zone Group Two tie. The winners will face Ireland or Turkey in the second round the weekend after Wimbledon, while the losers will go into a play-off to decide who will be relegated to Group Three.
Ward, 23, making his Davis Cup debut, showed few nerves. Grigelis, 18, who at No 521 was ranked 271 places lower than his opponent, held on until dropping serve in the ninth game. Another break in the opening game of the second set underlined Ward's superiority and the Londoner eventually closed out victory with an ace. Ward is the first Briton other than Murray, Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski to win a live singles rubber for 13 years.
"Obviously your first Davis Cup match is always a big win, and I'm glad I got through it," Ward said afterwards. "I'm confident in my own ability and I'm serving well, which on a fast court like this is tough to break at any time."
Evans, the world No 252, faced a considerably more accomplished opponent in Berankis, a former US Open junior champion who trains at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida. The world No 198 got off to a flying start, but Evans showed spirit to take the rubber into a fifth set, which was new territory for both 19-year-olds.
Having trailed 4-1 in the decider, Evans broke back to 4-3, only to drop his serve again. Berankis saved three break points when serving for the match at 5-3 before securing victory after nearly four hours with a smash.
British team: Who are they?
Age: 19. World ranking: 252 (singles). Once seen as brightest British hope, but lost his way.
Age: 23. World ranking: 250 (singles). Won Challenger title in Florida last year.
Age: 25. World ranking: 53 (doubles). Has formed strong partnership with Skupski.
Age: 26. World ranking: 54 (dbls). Davis Cup debut today.Reuse content