As Andy Murray completed his comeback against Switzerland’s Leandro Riedi on Friday during an unforgettable Davis Cup week in Manchester, his victory maintained the standards of one of the all-time great careers in the competition: across his 18 years, Murray holds a 33-3 record in singles.
It is a reflection of his greatness but also of the state of British tennis during much of his premiership. In order for Britain to achieve anything at all as a national team, such excellence was required of him every time he stepped on to the court. When he lost, Britain failed.
How things have changed. One of the clear themes of the past week in Manchester was the excellent strength in depth that the British team have acquired over the past few years, with the numerous elite singles and doubles players thriving by sharing the load.
Every member of the team has played a role in their success this year. During a tough February qualifying tie on clay and at high altitude in Colombia, Cameron Norrie led the British team through with two singles wins. In Manchester, though, the British No 1 was the only member of the team not to win a rubber.
No matter, every other player stepped up. Andy Murray and Jack Draper chipped in with hard-fought singles wins from behind. Neal Skupski performed skilfully in two decisive doubles rubbers, including during the pandemonium on Sunday night as he and Dan Evans saved four match points before clinching the tie against France.
No player contributed more than Evans, though, whose incredible leading performance further underlines his late-career flourish. Evans has always been clear and effusive about his passion for the Davis Cup and he has been a constant presence on the team for 14 years.
But he wasn’t always capable of winning.
The 33-year-old spent half of his career outside of the top 100, undisciplined and significantly underachieving. His transformation from a nonentity into an excellent perennial top-30 player capable of battling with anyone in both singles and doubles is impressive and admirable.
Evans’s success also shows the importance of the Davis Cup and its ability, both in the UK and around the world, to reach areas not served by the grand slam tournaments. Evans’s dreams of becoming a professional tennis player were consolidated by the various Davis Cup ties held around Birmingham during his youth, not Wimbledon.
“Davis Cup is why I played tennis at the start,” Evans said on Sunday. “I remember watching America, Portugal, Thailand … all of those ties were in Birmingham and that was one of my first introductions to tennis. Obviously, Wimbledon, but that was nowhere near where I live. That was my first introduction. For me, that was the be-all and end-all, to play Davis Cup for your country, and it still is.”
Over the past decade, Britain has hosted countless Davis Cup ties in Glasgow. While the LTA was correct to target Scotland after the era‑defining success of Andy and Jamie Murray, it is shocking that no tie had been held in Manchester for 29 years.
Finally given the opportunity to host, Manchester stepped up. The sold-out 13,000 AO Arena audience on Sunday was Great Britain’s biggest Davis Cup crowd in its 123-year history in the event. Somewhere in the stands of the Manchester venue, a young player was inspired by the sight of the British team teetering on the verge of defeat before recovering to secure their victory.
The Davis Cup quarter-final draw will be made on Tuesday afternoon and Great Britain face a tough quarter-final match in Málaga regardless. They will face either Novak Djokovic’s Serbia or Italy, who could boast Jannik Sinner and Matteo Berrettini.
For the British players, the Davis Cup has imbued added motivation into the autumn swing. The final months of a long, gruelling season can be difficult, with players struggling for motivation and running on fumes. But now they are playing for so much more.
The quality of the top four singles players means there is everything to play for and nothing is set. They will each navigate the final months knowing their form and performances will likely play a large part in deciding whether they spend their time in Málaga on the court or cheering from the bench.