Davis Cup: Andy Murray leads Great Britain to victory and first semi-final since 1981

Scot came from a set down to beat France's Gilles Simon and give Great Britain unassailable lead

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Seventy-nine years have passed since Fred Perry and Bunny Austin led Britain to their last Davis Cup triumph, but thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Andy Murray they are within two wins of lifting the historic trophy again. After victories in his first singles rubber on Friday and in the doubles with his brother Jamie on Saturday, Murray on Sunday  beat Gilles Simon 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 to give his team an unassailable 3-1 lead in their quarter-final against France.

The victory sends Leon Smith’s team into a semi-final against Australia in September. The last time they reached that stage of the competition was 34 years ago. Even in  the days when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were in their pomp, Britain never threatened to go as far as this team have.

It helps, of course, to have the country’s best player since Perry in the line-up. The world No 3 loves representing Britain and revelled in the raucous atmosphere here as a passionate home crowd roared him to victory.

At the end of three months of almost non-stop competition and just nine days after suffering the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, Murray dug deep to win a gruelling contest that lasted nearly three and a half hours. Many of the rallies went to 20 shots or more and both men suffered falls on the slippery surface.

Murray seemed barely able to lift his arms aloft in celebration at the end, though a broad smile crossed his face. Having embraced every member of the British entourage, the Scot then sat in his chair and buried his face in his towel as the tears flowed. “This weekend was tough,” he said later. “Today’s match was extremely hard. You don’t normally play that many long rallies on grass courts.”

Smith said he had “nothing but immense respect” for Murray. “I was sitting there thinking this is why he does the hard work, those moments when he digs into his dark places of training and he finds a way to do it because his legs and his heart have been conditioned to do it,” Smith added. “He does it better than anyone.”

Five years ago, in Smith’s first match as captain, Britain contested a play-off to avoid relegation into the Davis Cup’s bottom tier. Murray’s part in taking them up the ladder has been immense. Sunday’s victory was his 23rd in the 25 singles rubbers he has played in national colours.

Saturday’s doubles win left Britain needing to win only one of the reverse singles – James Ward would have played Richard Gasquet if a fifth rubber had been necessary – but Murray was well aware of the size of his task. Simon, a ruthlessly consistent ball striker, had beaten him in their most recent meeting in Rotterdam earlier this year.

For the first set and a half Murray appeared to be half a yard slower to the ball than usual and made a steady flow of unforced errors. For much of the time he simply looked exhausted.

Simon broke in the third game and even after the Frenchman needed lengthy treatment to his right knee after a fall, Murray was unable to take advantage. The Scot initially tried to capitalise on Simon’s discomfort by drop-shotting him – to resounding boos from the large French contingent in the crowd – but the world No 11 clung on to his break and served out for the set.

Murray’s frustration grew when he dropped his serve again at the start of the second set. Although he was making regular inroads into Simon’s service games he could not find the break. At 2-4 down Murray had to save a break point, but in the following game he finally broke after some desperately long rallies. Having lost one 35-shot rally he sank to his knees in sheer exhaustion.

The set went to a tie-break, in which Murray once again had to come from behind after a succession of errors saw him go 4-1 down. At 5-5, however, Simon put a forehand long and on set point Murray hit an unreturned serve.

Murray seemed too weary to repeat any of his leaps of joy on the previous two days, but he was soon 3-0 up in the third set after two successive breaks of serve. When Simon served at 3-5 the Scot converted his first set point with a sensational top-spin lob.

As the match passed the three-hour mark, Murray broke at the first opportunity in the fourth set. Simon slipped as he failed to chase down a Murray winner on break point and when he returned after treatment on his left ankle his movement was clearly impaired. He did not win another game.

“The court is the most slippery I ever played on,” Simon said. “I’ve played on grass for 10 years and I almost never fell. Today I was down four or five times and I had to pay attention on every step from the beginning – from the warm-up.”

All the players had struggled to keep their footing over the three days of the quarter-final. Arnaud Clement, the French captain, said the surface had been “very slippery” and  “a bit dangerous”, though  he stressed that the conditions had been the same for both teams.

Britain’s semi-final against Australia will be played from 18-20 September at a venue to be decided. Home ties have been played on grass at that time of the year in the past, but given the opposition it is thought more likely that Britain will opt for a hard court at an indoor venue. With Murray in the team, Smith and his men would probably fancy their chances even if the tie was played on ice.