THE 2015 DAVIS CUP FINAL – MATCH REPORT
Following on from the British team’s victory in Ghent, beating Belgium 3-1, I look back at the key moments of an incident-packed final, and assess what could now be in store for British tennis.
It was the best of both worlds from the very beginning. From the moment that the covers came down at the Flanders Expo last Friday, little could we know how finely balanced the tie would be. Some commentators were already talking about the final as a foregone conclusion – Britain’s for the taking, seemingly without breaking a sweat.
But, as in all Cup Finals and championship situations, the best sides rise to the occasion. And here in their backyard, the Belgians showed how it was that they managed to get to the final in the first place – sheer doggedness. They went for everything.
However, for a time it seemed as though the tie would be all Britain and the Belgian team wouldn’t even get a look-in. Newcomer Kyle Edmund (playing his first competitive Davis Cup match in the final) raced to a 4-0 first-set lead against Belgium’s best player, David Goffin, the world number 16.
Any questions the naysayers may have had about his inexperience (GB captain Leon Smith chose him over previous Cup match winner James Ward) swiftly appeared misplaced. Edmund sent Goffin scurrying all over the court, hitting shots with a ferocious intensity and power that belied his small frame. He went on to win the first two sets 6-3 6-1, and he seemed headed for victory, before his head started to go down. Nerves crept in. Goffin sensed a way back in, and took it, winning the next three sets 6-2 6-1 6-0. And the crowd roared when he won it.
This is where the home support came into its own. The Belgian supporters roared on their team at the end of every point, whether they won or lost. Shouts of ‘Allez’ and ‘Tous ensemble’ echoed around the Flanders Expo and giant cardboard cut-out heads of Goffin, Steve Darcis and head coach Johan van Herck were held aloft in the crowd, which surely must have left at least a few supporters with hernias by Sunday evening.
The loss was heartbreaking for Edmund, him having looked so assured early on, but it was also a good sign that a relative newcomer was able to push an experienced Davis Cup player (and player on the world stage too) so hard. He should take heart from the experience and pride in how he played. The question now is whether he can hone his evident skill over the next few years to become a truly world-class player. He has rocketed from world no. 500 to 100 in the last three years, so he certainly has the drive to do so. The British tennis world will watch with interest.
Later in that day came the match nobody thought Andy Murray could lose. It was the man from Dunblane versus virtually unknown Belgian Ruben Bemelmans. But, playing some brilliant shots and racing after everything Murray threw at him, the Belgian didn’t give in, and the eventual scoreline of 6-3 6-2 7-5 to Murray did not reflect the contribution Bemelmans made to an often hard-fought match.
At times the crowd were too over-zealous, infrequently letting mid-game celebrations go on a bit too long, or on occasion deliberately putting off players by whistling or tooting air-horns. However, this was the only detraction from what was, in the main, a very well-staged weekend on behalf of Belgium, especially notable given difficult global circumstances and the heightened security at present.
But the centrepiece of the weekend was undoubtedly the doubles match. Andy Murray and Jamie Murray faced up to David Goffin and Steve Darcis, the one-time slayer of Rafael Nadal. This was the first time the Belgian pair had played doubles together in the Davis Cup, but you wouldn’t have known it. They played in synchrony, going for their shots and refusing to give up. It was a compelling match, with gruelling rallies. The second set, which had a fair amount of breaks in it, went to Belgium, before the third set put the Brits back on track, and they went on to win the match 6-4 4-6 6-3 6-2, taking a 2-1 lead in the tie.
Then on Sunday 29th came the decider, Andy Murray v David Goffin, which would secure the Davis Cup for Britain if Murray won it. And Goffin threw everything at it, punishing Murray with long rallies and shots which sent him running all over the court.
But perhaps not since Murray’s victories over Novak Djokovic in the 2012 US Open and Wimbledon 2013 have matters seemed so tense, so deadly serious. The atmosphere was palpable even when watching at home. Even when Murray went two sets up (which Goffin made him fight every point for), and most thought the Belgian’s head would fall, he instead picked up his game, pulling off shots that a rattled player might have missed or put wide. But they couldn’t stop the eventual charge of Andy Murray, whose consistency and skill won it for Britain in the end. And he won it with an overhead lob the tennis world will be talking about for some time. What a way to do it.
This is the important thing – both the Murrays are always able to find their level and overcome challenges when required, and so for once with a British team, the outcome never truly looked in doubt. There were tough moments, but they dug deep and came through them. We were always in safe hands.
Still, the moment felt richly earned when it finally came. As with Wimbledon, it seemed to take an eternity, but Murray chose a cracking lob to win the Davis Cup on – a classy shot for a tenacious victory. He fell to the clay, and was quickly surrounded by an overjoyed Leon Smith and marauding team-mates. However – and this is the difference – he quickly batted them all away, saying ‘Let me go’, to run to Goffin and the rest of the Belgian team and shake their hands.
So a famous victory then. Now we just have to ensure that promising players continue to improve alongside the Murrays, and that resources are well-utilised in order to make the most of what we have. Yes, this was a team effort, but it was spearheaded by the Murrays, without whom we would not have gone very far. That’s perhaps immaterial as we still won, but imagine what we could do with a whole team of people performing at their level.
Still, that’s what may be remembered just as much as the tennis and the winners of this Davis Cup Final – the teams themselves, and the spirit in which the final was played, and in which it was organised in spite of everything else. One of defiance, hope and togetherness. Sport is one of the few things that can unite people in such a powerful way, and Andy Murray and the British team needed no words to express how they felt on Sunday afternoon. Their faces said it all. The history boys have become history men, in a final that will be marked in history for all the right reasons. This was a victory for all sides.