Leon Smith, Britain’s Davis Cup captain, will decide this morning whether to risk Andy Murray in today’s doubles against Croatia after the Wimbledon champion reported soreness in his back after his opening singles victory over Borna Coric here yesterday.
With Ivan Dodig beating Dan Evans to level the World Group play-off at 1-1 after the first day, the doubles could be crucial to the tie’s outcome.
Murray was playing his first match on clay since May, when he injured his back in Rome and was subsequently forced to miss the French Open. Playing on clay aggravates the problem and Murray admitted his back felt “a little bit sore” after his 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 victory over Coric, a 16-year-old making his Davis Cup debut.
“There are a few shots where it hurts and catches a little bit,” Murray said after his two-hour victory. “It’s a problem for sure on the clay. Other years it’s been OK, but this year it’s a bit of an issue.”
Smith confirmed that he would like Murray to partner Colin Fleming against Dodig and Mate Pavic in this afternoon’s doubles, but said no decision would be taken until the world No 3’s fitness is assessed this morning. At least Smith is in the enviable position of being able to replace Murray with the 2012 Wimbledon doubles champion, Jonny Marray, who is Fleming’s regular partner on the tour.
Playing his first Davis Cup rubber for two years, Murray was a comfortable winner over Coric, who won the US Open junior title last weekend. Murray, who set out to make things physically tough for his young opponent, saved a break point in the opening game by winning a marathon 57-stroke rally and took a firm grip on the match when he broke to lead 5-3.
The Scot raced away with the second set, teasing Coric with some well-disguised drop shots and telling lobs. Coric, who showed no signs of nerves, broke for the only time to lead 3-1 in the third set, but Murray was soon back in charge and closed out victory by winning the last five games.
“The start of the match went almost exactly as I wanted it to in terms of long rallies, long games, making it incredibly physical,” Murray said. “I could have got ahead a lot quicker. I missed a lot of short balls on my forehand. Once I got ahead I started to hit the ball better and was going for the returns more. I think every single break point that I won apart from match point were clean returns.”
Murray was pleased with the backing from a large contingent of British supporters in the 4,000-capacity stadium, which was barely half full. This is the first Davis Cup tie Croatia have staged in this peaceful resort on the Istrian coast and the home team might have been disappointed by the lack of passionate support.
Evans was rarely given a chance by Dodig, who served particularly well in his 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory. All three sets followed a similar pattern, with Evans holding on at the start until Dodig made crucial breaks of serve.
Dodig is the home side’s key player in the absence of Marin Cilic, who was reportedly attending a tribunal in London yesterday following unconfirmed reports that he had failed a drugs test. Dodig will be playing on all three days of the tie and was pleased to have won his first match in just an hour and 47 minutes.
Smith said the experience of playing such a match should stand Evans in good stead, particularly as the 23-year-old from Birmingham could find himself in the deciding rubber in tomorrow’s reverse singles. “I certainly think it won’t have done Dan any harm whatsoever playing that sort of match on clay against such quality opposition, not just for the future but also for Sunday,” Smith said.