If Britain’s Davis Cup team needed confirmation of the significance of their return to the World Group it came with the draw for next year’s first-round matches. A challenging encounter was always on the cards given the eight seeds that Leon Smith’s team could have faced, but their task could hardly have been much tougher than an away tie against the United States. The most successful nation in Davis Cup history – they have been champions 32 times – will entertain Britain at a venue to be decided on the first weekend of February next year.
Smith had said before the draw that he fancied a home tie against beatable opposition, but he was unlucky on both counts. The United States do not have any top 10 singles players, but the fact that they can call on Bob and Mike Bryan, the world’s most successful doubles pair, regularly sways ties in their favour.
Assuming that Andy Murray is available – and that is by no means certain given the timing of the tie on the first weekend after the Australian Open - Britain’s Wimbledon champion would be fancied to win his two singles rubbers, probably against John Isner and Sam Querrey. However, the Americans would be clear favourites to win the other two singles rubbers, presumably against Dan Evans or James Ward.
That could leave the tie to be decided by the doubles. In last weekend’s promotion play-off against Croatia Murray showed in partnership with Colin Fleming what an excellent doubles player he is, but to play three rubbers in three days against opposition of such stature would be a big ask. While Britain have strength in depth in doubles, through the likes of Fleming and Jonny Marray, there is no more dangerous opposition than the Bryan brothers,
The Davis Cup’s place in the calendar has long been a bone of contention and the date for next year’s first round (31 January to 2 February), with ties starting just five days after the Australian Open final, will not suit anybody who goes deep into the tournament in Melbourne. Murray has reached the semi-finals or better of the Australian Open for the last four years in a row.
Asked about Murray’s likely involvement in the Davis Cup next year, Smith said: “He’s very committed. The great thing is it’s a time to get the players and staff together to work together and have a good time.”
He added: “I think I can speak on behalf of the players and the staff that this tournament is like no other. The great thing about the Davis Cup is that it’s a team effort which requires everyone to play their part. When we faced Russia in April we were classed as the underdog, but Jonny Marray did well and Andy came in [against Croatia] and it’s been a great team effort.
“It’s the most exciting spectacle. Like what we saw in London at the Olympics, it’s time for the fans to get behind the team and it’s been character-building for the players involved.”
While Britain would no doubt have preferred a less daunting task, they could hardly have wished for more high-profile opponents. Ever since Dwight Davis, the tournament’s founder, led the Americans to victory in the first meeting between the two countries in 1900, there has been a great history of competition between them.
Arguably Britain’s most high-profile Davis Cup tie of the last 25 years was their 1999 meeting with the Americans at a packed National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were in their pomp. The Americans won 3-2, Jim Courier beating Rusedski 8-6 in the final set of the deciding rubber. Britain’s last appearance in a World Group final was away to the Americans in 1978, when John McEnroe led the home team to a 4-1 victory over John and David Lloyd, Buster Mottram and Mark Cox.
Stars and stripes: Who Britain’s team could face...
The 6ft 10in world No 15 has one of the game’s biggest serves and is always a threat on quick surfaces. A late developer, having played college tennis, the 28-year-old from North Carolina reached a career-best No 9 in the world rankings last year.
Another giant at 6ft 6in, the 25-year-old world No 31 has won seven titles on the main tour, including the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club three years ago. Has won four of his 10 Davis Cup rubbers since making his debut in 2008.
Bob and Mike Bryan
The world’s most successful doubles pair were denied a pure Grand Slam of all this year’s men’s doubles titles in the majors when they lost in the semi-finals at the US Open. Have nevertheless lost their two most recent Davis Cup rubbers, against Brazil and Serbia.