Davis Cup: Andy Murray sets sights high after return to top flight

Britain beat Croatia 4-1

Umag, Croatia

Three years after Britain had to win a play-off to avoid dropping into the Davis Cup’s fourth tier, Leon Smith’s team on Sunday booked a place in next year’s World Group. They will return to the elite 16-nation division for the first time since 2008 thanks largely to Andy Murray, who enjoyed his third win of the weekend here to secure victory over Croatia.

Playing his first Davis Cup tie for two years, Murray followed up his win alongside Colin Fleming in Saturday’s doubles by beating Ivan Dodig 6-4,  6-2, 6-4 in the first of reverse singles, only one of which Britain needed to win. Dan Evans went on to beat Mate Pavic 6-4, 7-6 in the concluding rubber to complete an emphatic 4-1 triumph.

Britain have not won a tie in the World Group for 27 years, but this weekend, on a challenging clay-court surface, showed how strong Smith’s team can be when Murray is available. The world No 3 has won his last 16 Davis Cup singles rubbers in a row.

Smith and his team will learn their opponents in next year’s World Group first round – which will be played after the Australian Open at the end of January – when the draw is made on Wednesday. They will face one of the eight seeds, who are likely to be the Czech Republic, Spain, Serbia, Argentina, France, the United States, Canada and Kazakhstan. That will be a major contrast with some of the opponents Britain have beaten – the likes of Turkey, Luxembourg and Hungary – on their long route back to the top flight.

Murray praised those players who had secured important victories in his absence. In particular, Britain would not have reached yesterday’s play-off but for their extraordinary comeback against Russia in April, when Evans, James Ward, Fleming and Jonny Marray won from 2-0 down.

“This weekend’s been very, very enjoyable,” Murray said. “A lot of credit has to go to Dan, James and to all of the other guys for allowing me to be in this position. They’ve had some great wins this year already and it was nice to step up and have a good weekend, but for the last two or three years a lot of hard work has gone in. I’m glad to have finished it off today.”

Zeljko Krajan, Croatia’s coach, said there was no reason why Britain could not win the Davis Cup. Murray said much would depend on the draw, but added: “There are only maybe one or two guys just now that I wouldn’t go into a match favourite against. We have a very strong doubles team as well and Dan and James are playing well, especially in the home matches when we have the choice of court. We have a strong team. Given a decent draw and some home matches we could go far.”

Despite having been taken to four sets in Saturday’s doubles, Murray showed no sign of the back problems which have troubled him on clay this year. Dodig made him work for his victory, though the burden on the world No 35’s shoulders this weekend proved too great. The home team badly missed their leading player, Marin Cilic, who has not played since Wimbledon following unconfirmed reports that he failed a drugs test. An announcement on Cilic’s future is expected within the next few days.

Murray was superior to Dodig in every department and capitalised on early breaks in each set. Dodig never gave up, but his last chance slipped away when he failed to convert two break points when trailing 3-2 in the third set. When Murray served for the match at 5-4, Dodig was furious when his cross-court forehand was called out at 30-30. Renaud Lichtenstein, the umpire, rejected his protests, and the crowd continued to vent their displeasure on the subsequent match point, which Murray won when Dodig put a backhand long.

“I played a good point considering they were shouting every time I hit the ball,” Murray said. “That’s why it’s a bit of a character-builder when you play an away tie in Davis Cup. You need to go through moments like that and stay calm.”

Murray added: “I gave him very few chances when I was serving. I got broken once and maybe had break points in one or two other games, which in a best-of-five match, or over three sets on clay, is good.

“I created a lot of opportunities to break and put a lot of pressure on his service games. I made him work hard almost every game when he was serving. It was a good match from me today.”

Smith said Murray’s performance was “professional, high-quality, motivated” and “out of this world”. The captain was also pleased with the team spirit within the British camp.

“The players genuinely want each other to do really well,” Smith said. “I’m not sure it’s always been like that. I don’t know because I wasn’t around then, but certainly it feels like there’s a really strong unity among them all. I can see that by the way they support each other on the bench.”

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