Andy Murray put his season on the line by risking his damaged left wrist, but a bleak future is looming for Britain after defeat in the doubles gave Poland the advantage in yesterday's Davis Cup relegation play-off at the Echo Arena in Liverpool. Murray and Ross Hutchins were beaten 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 by Marcin Matkowski and Mariusz Fyrstenberg, giving the Poles a crucial 2-1 lead going into today's final session.
Britain must now win both of today's singles matches if they are to avoid relegation to Group Two of the Europe Africa Zone, effectively the Davis Cup's third division, alongside the likes of Monaco, Lithuania and Ireland. Britain having last played at that level 13 years ago, it is a sorry state of affairs given the millions that flow into the game here every year from Wimbledon and from the Lawn Tennis Association's £25m partnership deal with the financial services company Aegon.
Presuming he is fit to play, Murray will today face Jerzy Janowicz, the world No 261, while Dan Evans, who is making his Davis Cup debut, faces Michal Przysiezny. At No 678 Przysiezny is ranked 376 places above the 19-year-old from Birmingham, but on the evidence of their performances on the opening day - the Pole giving Murray a decent match and the Briton losing in straight sets to Janowicz - it would be hard to fancy the home team's chances.
Murray, who has been troubled by the wrist injury since the middle of last month, declared himself fit to play yesterday morning, despite the fact that he knows he will have to take some time off once this tie is over. He is due to see the specialist who treated him when he damaged his right wrist two summers ago, forcing him to miss the French open and Wimbledon.
The 22-year-old Scot played beautifully at times, even though his pain was often clear. Hutchins, however, never got to grips with his return of serve and was often targeted by the Poles, who are the world's 11th-ranked doubles pair.
The key to the match was the British pair's failure to convert 17 of the 18 break points they forced. Time and again the Poles got into trouble, only to serve their way out of it.
Murray and Hutchins scorned four break points in the first set and had Matkowski serving at 0-40 in the sixth game, but it was the Poles who made the only break, when Hutchins served at 5-5. The set finished in familiar fashion as Hutchins failed to find the court with three successive service returns.
From the second set onwards the Britons swapped sides, Hutchins moving over to the forehand court. That is the formation the pair usually prefer, but they had switched round in order to protect Murray's left wrist, which had been hurting whenever he tried to generate power on his double-handed backhand.
The change brought an immediate reward. Although four more chances went begging early in the second set, the Britons finally converted a break point at the ninth attempt when Fyrstenberg served at 3-4. Murray went on to seal the set with an ace.
Once again a single break settled the third set. With Murray serving at 2-3 the Poles targeted Hutchins at the net and from deuce were rewarded with two successive volley errors by the 24-year-old Briton. Hutchins saved a set point with a service winner at 3-5, but Matkowski served out to love in the following game.
The fourth set followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Fyrstenberg was 0-40 down on his serve at 1-2, but the Poles took five points in a row to hold on. When Murray served at 15-40 in the following game Hutchins spooned up a routine volley to give Fyrstenberg an easy put-away. Two games later Hutchins' serve was broken again. When Fyrstenberg served for the match at 5-2 the Britons had six more break points but did not take any of them.