The weekend is still likely to end in an inquest into what might have been, but an emphatic doubles victory here yesterday by Jonny Marray and Colin Fleming over Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda kept alive Britain's hopes of beating Russia and earning a play-off for a place in the Davis Cup's World Group.
James Ward and Dan Evans, nevertheless, will need to bridge major gaps in the world rankings to beat Dmitry Tursunov and Evgeny Donskoy respectively in today's reverse singles if they are to earn a 3-2 victory. The winners enter a draw on Wednesday for the play-offs in September, while the losers will next compete in October in a play-off to decide who will be relegated to Europe/Africa Zone Group Two.
If Ward and Evans could defy the odds, Britain would have high hopes of returning to the World Group, as Andy Murray is planning to make himself available for national duty in September. The world No 2, who won the Miami Masters seven days ago and is now preparing for the clay-court season, did not include Davis Cup duty this weekend in his schedule. A number of other leading players, including Russia's top two men, Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko, made the same decision.
Given the quality of Britain's doubles players, there is no doubt that Leon Smith's team could be a match for anybody when the line-up also includes Murray, who has been sending the team regular messages of support this weekend. Yesterday's result at Coventry's Ricoh Arena was no surprise considering the world doubles rankings – Marray and Fleming are No 16 and No 28 respectively, while Kunitsyn and Baluda are No 439 and No 440 – but the Britons were still admirably ruthless in their 6-1 6-4 6-2 demolition of the Russians. Both were razor-sharp at the net and kept the Russians under constant pressure with the quality of their returns. From the moment they broke Kunitsyn's first service game, Fleming and Marray were a class apart.
The Britons are playing together on the Tour this year in the absence of Fleming's regular partner, Ross Hutchins, who is being treated for cancer, and make a strong team. A home win today is still not out of the question given the performances of Ward and Evans on Friday, when both Britons lost five-set marathons. Evans in particular performed much better than his world ranking of No 325 would suggest, though he did himself no favours with his post-match admission that he fails to reproduce his Davis Cup form throughout the year because "I don't train hard enough and don't work hard enough".
While Evans's talent has never been in doubt, he has been told regularly that he needs to make a more serious commitment to his job. Smith was among those who hoped that Evans's excellent displays in the Davis Cup last year would be a springboard for future success, but the 22-year-old's world ranking is now 49 places lower than it was when his victories over Lukas Lacko and Martin Klizan helped Britain defeat Slovakia.
Evans, whose attitude does not reflect that of the vast majority of senior British players, was dropped this year from Team Aegon, the group of elite players funded by the Lawn Tennis Association. He still receives payments from an LTA bonus fund which tops up prize money won at Futures and Challenger tournaments, but says he has played this year only in British events – which do not provide the same level of competition he might find elsewhere – because of the cost of travelling overseas.
Smith does not buy Evans's argument. "Look at James [Ward]," Smith said. "He plays overseas all the time even though he's not making huge money. He commits to doing it. He invests in himself."
Britain's captain added: "It is frustrating. Dan's only 22 and he's got a hell of a lot to offer. We keep getting excited about him. I really enjoy watching him play.
"Some players just take a little bit longer to mature and, as desperate as we all are, me in particular, to make sure we have higher-ranked players, weekends like this might just again act as a catalyst for him to do something about it.
"We're always looking for signs – and he needs signs as well. If this isn't another sign to him of what he's capable of and what he could do if he did train hard enough every day, then I don't know what is."Reuse content