Andy Murray clinches Davis Cup as Great Britain ends 79-year wait for title

ByMark Hodgkinson ESPN logo
Sunday, November 29, 2015

GHENT, Belgium -- History was made in a warehouse on an industrial estate at the concrete fringes of this city, with Andy Murray defeating Belgium's David Goffin to propel Great Britain to its first Davis Cup triumph since the summer of 1936.

On a drop-in clay court at the Flanders Expo, near a motorway and a Swedish furniture store, Murray once again said "boo" to Fred Perry's ghost, just as he had done with his individual victories at the 2012 US Open and the 2013 Wimbledon championships.

The year that Britain last won this competition, the British monarchy was going through its abdication crisis and "Gone With The Wind" had just been published, and Perry's team swung their wooden frames amid the pre-war, garden-party splendor of Wimbledon's Centre Court. But, 79 years later, Murray would not have been bothered that this arena and its surrounds are so unsightly that at least one visiting broadcaster had been filming its opening sequences in the centre of Ghent.

For all Murray cared, they could have played this in the car park and, from the very point, it never looked as though he was going to be spooked by Perry's ghost, Goffin's game or thousands of lively Belgians. The DJ's techno-beats were no competition for the rhythm of Murray's groundstrokes, and he beat Goffin in straight sets.

Murray completed his 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory with the best shot of the weekend, looping a backhand lob over Goffin's head and under the low-hanging girders, before he then collapsed on to the clay. It was a bench-clearing moment, with Murray's teammates and all the British coaches and support staff rushing on to join him. "I can't believe it," Murray said. "I always play my best tennis when I play for my country."

And so Murray -- who had also contributed his team's other two points with his wins in Friday's singles and Saturday's doubles alongside his brother Jamie -- completed a victory that could bring the British public almost as much pleasure as when he won the Wimbledon title to become the first British male champion since Perry in 1936. And perhaps even more pleasure than his US Open title, given that it was in the middle of the night in Britain when he became the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since Perry, also in 1936.

Whether in New York, London, or at the edge of Belgium's third-largest city, Murray is doing what he can to delete that phrase, "not since Perry in 1936" from the lexicon of British tennis.

For so long, Britain has been one of the great underachievers of this competition. Just five years ago, the British Davis Cup team's results were hardly becoming of a nation that had founded this tournament, and which receives millions of pounds every year from Wimbledon. A defeat to a team of Lithuanian teenagers left Britain with a relegation playoff against Turkey in Eastbourne in July 2010, when they faced dropping down to the lowest level of the competition, the Euro-African Zone Group Three. There they would have played the likes of Andorra, San Marino and Iceland.

But they won that tie, which was Leon Smith's first weekend as captain, and since then have had the fastest rise of any nation in the history of this competition. In reaching the final, Britain had beaten the other three Grand Slam-hosting nations this year, with victories over United States, France and Australia.

While others might come to this part of Ghent on a Sunday afternoon to pick up some flat-pack bedside tables, Murray and his gang acquired something more substantial, and already assembled: the 105-kilogram Davis Cup.

All weekend, Murray had been "pumped," and it was no different in the first of Sunday's reverse singles matches as he sought to give Britain an unassailable 3-1 lead. Once again, as they had done on the first two days of the tie, the Royal Belgian Tennis Federation had hung giant white curtains on all four sides of the court, and then dropped them down before play began for a 'big reveal' with the teams already on the clay. While all the other players stood still in position, Murray's feet were already moving, and that wasn't because of the music. He was keen to get going.

On the three other occasions that Murray had won the sport's biggest prizes his opponent had been one of the all-time greats of the game, with his victory in the 2012 Olympic final coming against Roger Federer, while he beat Novak Djokovic to win his US Open and Wimbledon titles. But this time, the tramline of history had brought Murray to a match against Goffin, the world No.16, and an opponent he had beaten for the loss of just one game when they had played in a best-of-three-sets match on a hard court at the Paris Masters this month.

It was almost as if the Belgian crowd sensed that the only way that their player was to beat Murray was to rile him, and so in the opening minutes they hissed, they booed, they jeered, and they used their air horns as he prepared to serve, or even at the top of his ball-toss. But Murray wasn't about to be pulled off his orbit. Murray, who has also played Goffin in the first round of the 2014 Wimbledon fortnight, had never previously lost a set against the Belgian, and that run continued here.

Before this weekend, you had to spool all the way back to 1995 -- when Pete Sampras' United States beat Russia -- for the last time that one player had won three live rubbers at a Davis Cup final. Those weren't the only numbers popping off Murray's strings as he became only the second man (after John McEnroe in 1982) to win eight singles rubbers in a year, as well as the fourth player to win 11 or more rubbers in a season, after McEnroe in 1982, Michael Stich in 1993 and Ivan Ljubicic in 2005.

Along with noise, color and emotion, history was not in short supply in this warehouse.