Great Britain’s hopes of reaching the Davis Cup semi-finals were hanging by a thread after Jack Draper lost the opening rubber to Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic in Malaga.
Serbia sprang a surprise by picking Kecmanovic, ranked five places above Draper at 55 in the world, ahead of their number two Laslo Djere, but the 24-year-old fully justified the decision with an impressive display.
Twenty-one-year-old Draper was unable to impose his big game on the match and came out on the wrong end of two tie-breaks in a contest lasting two hours and two minutes.
The tie did not get under way until 6.10pm, more than two hours later than billed, because of the over-running first match of the day between Italy and the Netherlands.
Around 5,000 British fans, including Dan Evans, who was forced out of the event through injury after playing the leading role in qualification, made up the majority of a virtually full crowd at the Palacio de Deportes Martin Carpena.
The International Tennis Federation’s decision to move away from the traditional home-and-away format and to a World Cup-style event has been unpopular with players and fans, but this was the sort of occasion they would have envisaged.
It was a huge moment for Draper, who only played his first match in the competition in September in Manchester and now found British hopes depending on him given the presence of Djokovic in the second rubber.
He could draw on better recent form than Kecmanovic, having reached his first ATP Tour final in Sofia earlier this month while the Serbian had lost his last four matches, and also won their only previous meeting on clay in May.
But Kecmanovic is a quality player who was ranked in the top 30 at the start of the year and, despite three aces in his first service game from Draper, it was the Serbian who was the more impressive in the early stages.
Draper had to dig deep to save two break points in a long eighth game and then found himself facing two set points at 4-5, which he again fought off in gutsy fashion.
But two double faults cost him dearly in the tie-break and left him with a lot of work to do to turn the match around.
Neither man faced a break point in the second set, but again it was Kecmanovic who looked the more convincing on serve.
After losing five points in a row from 2-0 up in the tie-break, Draper did well to level at 5-5 and then save a match point with a volley that just caught the line, but a wayward forehand gave Kecmanovic a second chance and this time the British youngster netted a return.