Great Britain returned to the familiar surroundings of the Emirates Arena in Glasgow this week with one of the deepest men’s teams in its recent history. Ten years on from a time when Andy Murray was the country’s sole top-200 men’s singles player, they finally had some depth. They have four top-50 singles players now, including the world number eight, and two of the top three doubles players in the world. Expectations were high.
In the end, those expectations were not even close to being met. Great Britain were dumped out of the Davis Cup with a tie to spare despite a courageous fight from Joe Salisbury and Andy Murray, who were defeated 7-6 (0), 6-7 (6), 6-3 by Wesley Koolhof and Matwé Middelkoop in the deciding doubles rubber, handing the Netherlands a 2-1 victory.
“It just sucks, because these matches have come down to a few points and they’ve not gone our way,” said Murray. “I have been fortunate to play a lot of these matches over the years, and, you know, come through them. You know, that hasn’t happened this time around, and I feel sad about that, because I think we had the possibility to have a really good run here.”
The Great Britain team returned to the Emirates Arena on Friday for their second tie with the pressure high. The Netherlands had already secured a win by defeating Kazakhstan and, after beating Britain on Wednesday, the United States team also defeated Kazakhstan to clinch their second win. The top two teams from the group advance to the knockout stages, meaning Friday’s encounter was a must-win.
Despite the loss to Tommy Paul on Tuesday, Dan Evans left the court feeling like he was playing well. He simply continued on the same path, serving well and attacking his forehand without hesitation despite the extremely slow courts, and he handed Great Britain a hopeful early start by comprehensively beating Tallon Griekspoor 6-4, 6-4.
“I played well,” said Evans. “More of a match of just focus to get through really, to get a win. I knew I was obviously playing better than him, the higher-ranked player in the match. I just had to put my game on the court, make sure I focused at the right moments and put pressure on him.”
Van de Zandschulp, the world number 35, had also played extremely well on the first day and he took his form into his encounter with Cameron Norrie, dismantling a poor Norrie with great serving and composed aggression. Afterwards, Norrie described his contributions as “a very bad day” but he was complimentary about Van de Zanschulp.
“I thought Botic came out and played a high level throughout the whole match and played a very complete match. Didn’t give a serve away. I gave my serve away once in the first set, once in the second set. That was the difference today,” he said.
The tie, and Great Britain’s hopes for another season, came down to the deciding doubles rubber, with Murray marking a milestone 50th Davis Cup match after he was again chosen over Neal Skupski, the No 3 doubles player and Koolhof’s partner. Murray and Salisbury started well, taking an early 4-2 lead, but a poor service game on Salisbury’s serve scuppered the break. As the Dutch team gradually grew in confidence, Murray and Salisbury played a dire opening tiebreak.
Throughout the second set, Murray and Salisbury fought hard, but the Dutch pair gradually pulled away, eventually reaching match point at 6-5. In those moments of intense pressure, they were resolute. Salisbury saved the danger with an unreturned serve, then Murray refused to miss a single volley or return, forcing a third set.
Although they fought hard, the British team were unable to push any further as the Netherlands sealed victory, ensuring that they and the United States will head to the knockout stages of the Davis Cup Finals in Málaga later this year.
“When you get to sort of my age and this stage of your career, I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll get to still be part of this team,” Murray added. “We’ve got obviously a lot of depth now, as we have spoken about, in the singles and the doubles. Yeah, because of that, it makes it tougher.”
After his match, Murray spoke of his admiration for Roger Federer throughout their time on the ATP tour together in light of Federer’s imminent retirement from the sport. Murray will join Federer in his final event at the Laver Cup next week.
“Obviously he [Federer] was an amazing player. I was lucky to get to compete against him in some of the biggest matches, in the biggest tournaments, on the biggest stages in our sport,” said Murray. “At the time I probably didn’t appreciate it as much, but now, like, looking back, it’s pretty amazing. It’s incredible what he achieved and also what Rafa [Nadal] and Novak [Djokovic] have done, as well. It’s a sad, sad day for the sport again.”