Andy Murray will break new ground today as Britain attempt to avoid playing Davis Cup tennis next year against the likes of Latvia, Slovenia, Zimbabwe and Egypt.
The 19-year-old Scot had not played three matches in any of his four previous ties, a record he had been hoping to extend here after helping his team to a 2-0 lead after the first singles matches against Ukraine.
Yesterday, however, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Orest Tereshchuk beat Murray and Jamie Delgado 6-3 6-3 6-3, which means that John Lloyd's men must win one of today's two singles to escape the drop into Group Two of the Europe-Africa zone.
Murray, who is playing in Bangkok this week and had been hoping to be on his way today, will be required to play the first of the reverse singles, against Stakhovsky. Greg Rusedski, who has a hip injury, was rested from yesterday's doubles after his gruelling five-set victory over Stakhovsky, but Lloyd said the 33-year-old would play today if needed.
Rusedski's doubles place was handed to Delgado, who has now lost all his seven Davis Cup rubbers. The world No 494 had performed well alongside Murray in their only previous match together - a five-set defeat to Israel's Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich at Eastbourne in July - but that was on British grass.
Ukrainian clay proved a different proposition. The tiny Odessa Lawn Tennis Club is hardly an unwelcoming venue - indeed the British changing rooms are next to what they believe is a brothel, although it has not been open this week - and the genteel crowd of fewer than 1,000 has been far from intimidating, but the home team have looked more comfortable on the court's slippery surface.
Once the pre-match ceremony was out of the way - Brad Gilbert, Murray's watching coach, must have wondered whether it had been in his honour that the teams came out to the tune of "Born in the USA" - the Britons got off to a flier, winning the first three points, against Stakhovsky's serve. However, the game proved to be the story of the match as the Ukrainians won the next five points. In total Murray and Delgado failed to convert 14 of their 17 break points; Stakhovsky and Tereshchuk took seven of their 11.
Both Britons served poorly - Delgado was broken four times, Murray three - and although Murray returned well, the world No 16's sound groundstrokes could not compensate for his partner's failings, particularly at the net. Even a change of sides in the third set, with Delgado moving into the forehand court, could not change the pattern.
The Ukrainians played well, volleying with assurance, hardly missing anything overhead and finding some of their best form on the biggest points. Lloyd, who said he would renew his efforts to tempt Tim Henman out of Davis Cup retirement, lamented the fact that he does not have an experienced doubles pair, while Murray said the Ukrainians "looked as though they'd played together a lot".
However, Stakhovsky (world No 188) and Tereshchuk (352) had never played together and indeed had practised alongside each other only in the build-up to this tie. Delgado, moreover, had the highest doubles ranking (142) of all four players.
Murray agreed he had not been at his best. "I felt like I returned great, but I didn't serve too well and maybe in the first set I missed too many reflex volleys," he said. "Overall, though, I think you have to give a little bit of credit to them. They played well."
Lloyd tried to put a brave face on it. "I would have taken a 2-1 lead going into the last two singles, with Andy Murray playing and Greg Rusedski having 48 hours' rest," he said.
Stakhovsky, whose serve was not broken, said he was confident of reversing his previous result against Murray today, the Scot having won when they met in the final of the US Open junior tournament two years ago.
"He may have beaten Roger Federer this summer but that was on a hard court," the Ukrainian No 1 said. "On clay and in the Davis Cup it's a completely different world."Reuse content