Not even the heroic efforts of the world's third best player could prevent Britain's Davis Cup team from sinking to their lowest point for 13 years here in Liverpool last night. With the home side needing to win the final day's two rubbers to beat Poland, Andy Murray again played through the pain from his injured left wrist to deliver his second singles victory of the tie, only for Dan Evans to lose in straight sets to a player ranked 376 places beneath him.
The 3-2 defeat sends John Lloyd's team into Group Two of the Europe Africa Zone, effectively the competition's third division. The only country to have played in every Davis Cup since its launch 109 years ago, Britain have played at that level only once before, between 1995 and 1996. The countries they could face in March next year include Lithuania, Estonia, Egypt and Monaco. Relegation to such a level is an embarrassment for a country that boasts the game's most famous tournament, one of its richest governing bodies and a player ranked No 3 in the world.
Murray gave his all in the tie, playing three days in succession despite his inflamed left wrist he first hurt in Cincinnati last month. Today he will see the specialist who treated the injury to his right wrist two summers ago and it remains to be seen whether the problem will affect his schedule for the rest of the year.
As for the team, Murray said that relegation would leave Britain "where we deserve to be". He explained: "We clearly aren't good enough to be playing against these teams. With or without me we're struggling to win matches. I think everyone who's involved – and I'm one of them – needs to be honest about how we're doing and to realise that we need to get better."
Lloyd, who agreed with Murray's verdict on the team, said he would carry on as captain provided he was still wanted. He has another year of his current contract to run.
Murray said he would continue to be available for selection, although he suggested that it might not be in the team's best interests if he played in Group Two. "It's not a huge amount of progress if we play and I win my matches and then when we come to this level again we go straight back down," he said. "We need to make sure there's a progression and that the guys who come in are ready and experienced enough to deal with these sort of matches, because right now they aren't."
Saturday's doubles defeat, with Murray and Ross Hutchins losing in four sets to Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg, had left Britain needing to win both final-day rubbers, a feat they last achieved from 2-1 down 40 years ago.
Murray could not have provided greater inspiration for such a comeback, looking fired-up from the very first point of his 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Jerzy Janowicz as he shouted in celebration after hitting a service winner. It had been touch-and-go whether he would play as his wrist has been hurting whenever he hits through the ball on his double-handed backhand. However, everything else about his game looked in good order – and needed to be against an opponent who played well above his world No 261 ranking. Janowicz, an 18-year-old who stands at 6ft 8in, has a big serve, a big forehand and, on this evidence, a big-match temperament.
Murray broke serve in the fourth game when the Pole, under pressure, put a volley in the net. Murray punched the air in delight. After serving out for the first set, his celebrations were even more boisterous when he broke to love in the fifth game of the second. The Scot dropped only five points on his serve in the second set and had just two break points against him in the whole match, which he saved with successive service winners when leading 2-1 in the third.
Murray was back on court, supporting Evans, from the start of the deciding rubber, which finished with embarrassing speed. Michal Przysiezny may be the world No 678, but he was No 190 two years ago and at 25, with the experience of 12 Davis Cup rubbers behind him, had far too much in his locker for Evans, who was making his debut in the competition.
The 19-year-old from Birmingham, who is the world No 302, was beaten 6-2, 6-1, 7-5. From 1-1 in the first set, Evans lost 12 of the next 14 games. He made a brief recovery at the start of the third set, breaking twice to take a 4-2 lead, but at 5-5 dropped his serve for the seventh time in the match. Three unreturned serves in succession gave Przysiezny the match. "I must admit I thought he would be tougher," the Pole said. "Apart from the final set the match was easy."
Davis Cup: How low can Great Britain go?
*The top 16 teams face each other in the World Group, a knock-out competition. This year's final will be contested by the Czech Republic and Spain.
*Countries not in the World Group face each other in regional groups (Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Europe/Africa) each of which has four sub-groups. Winners of these regional groups play World Group teams who have lost their first-round match to gain promotion to the World Group.
*Losing yesterday sees Great Britain relegated from Group One in the Europe/Africa zone to Group Two and next year they will face the likes of Bosnia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkey, Monaco, Norway, Portugal or Slovenia.