Murrays win doubles to put Great Britain on brink of Davis Cup triumph

ByMark Hodgkinson ESPN logo
Sunday, November 29, 2015

GHENT, Belgium -- Great Britain's Davis Cup team -- or perhaps that should read Dunblane, Scotland's Davis Cup team -- is within a rubber of making history in this Belgian warehouse after Andy and Jamie Murray won the doubles rubber to take a 2-1 lead in this compelling final.

Some 126 nations entered Davis Cup this year, but one family from a small town in Stirlingshire could be about to win a competition that styles itself as "the World Cup of tennis." Just as they had done in previous rounds, the Murrays "stuck together as brothers should", to borrow Andy's phrase, with the Scots infuriating thousands of spirited, vocal Belgians by beating David Goffin and Steve Darcis in four sets, every one of which fried the nerves of anyone who had come dressed in red, white and blue.

They got there in the end, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, so forget the Bryans, as it's the Murrays who have been the predominant brothers in tennis this year. Their victory means Andy has contributed both of Britain's points so far, after his victory in Friday's singles, and if he can gather a third when he plays Goffin in the first of Sunday's reverse singles matches, his country will win this competition for the first time since the summer of 1936.

The last time Murray played Goffin, which was as recently as this month in a best-of-three-set match on a hard court at the Paris Masters, he beat him for the loss of just one game, but the pressures, emotions and psychology will be quite different on this drop-in clay court at the Flanders Expo in Ghent.

This wasn't the first time a pair of British brothers had come together in a Davis Cup final to repel the Belgians, as Reggie and Laurie Doherty did just that in 1904 on a grass court in Wimbledon, but you can imagine that the flannel-trousered, Cambridge-educated Englishmen didn't have to contend with this noise.

With the wigs, the brightly coloured cowboy hats and the air horns, the dress code for this tie is similar to a 6-year-old's birthday party, and the soundtrack and the dancing is what you might expect at a bad wedding. For all that, this Belgian crowd can be hostile and intimidating, and the noise was relentless from first volley to last. Given that it wasn't always easy for the Murrays to hear each other between points, it was just as well that Britain's doubles team have a bond that only brothers have, one that doesn't rely on verbal communication between points.

The Murrays' past two doubles matches had been tense, as they came from a set down to defeat the French pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in squarterfinal at Queen's Club, while the semifinal against Australia in Glasgow, Scotland, saw them win a five-setter against Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth that was one of the most entertaining afternoons of the tennis year. And this, their third doubles match of the year, was hardly a relaxing afternoon in the shed for the 1,000-odd British supporters.

An hour before the match, and as the spectators waited in long queues to go through the security checks, it became apparent that the Belgian captain, Johan van Herck had taken a considerable risk by changing the doubles pair that he had nominated at Thursday's draw. Instead of partnering Kimmer Coppejans, Darcis would play alongside Goffin.

While Goffin is a singles player of some international standing, ranked No. 16 in the world, and with a record of having reached the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon during his career, he isn't exactly known for his skill on a doubles court. Before this rubber, he had won just two of the 15 doubles matches he had played at tour level. This was also the first time he had played Davis Cup doubles for three years, having not played since the last encounter between these two countries, which was a Euro-African zonal tie in Glasgow.

Still, it soon became clear that it had been good decision to put Goffin and Darcis together, with the match much tighter than most had imagined it would be. Perhaps what we were seeing was the influence of Frenchman Michael Llodra, who had been hired for the tie as a specialist doubles coach. And while Goffin and Darcis were a new team in the Davis Cup, it wasn't the first time they had played together, as they had previously made a joint appearance at one US Open and also at three Challenger-level tournaments.

The Murrays will never again play a set as intense as the third set of this match. It was plain that whichever team gathered that set would take command of the rubber, and therefore of the final. There were five breaks in the space of six games, but in the end it was the Britons who held their nerve and their serves.

Over the course of the season, Jamie Murray has played four matches of great magnitude. He had lost the previous three in partnership with Australian John Peers, in the Wimbledon and US Open finals, and also in a round-robin encounter against Bob and Mike Bryan at the year-end championships in London, when they held match points for a win that would have taken them through to the semifinals. But this time was different, this time Jamie didn't have to experience the angst and the disappointment that comes with defeat.

Andy and Jamie Murray had never previously lost a Davis Cup doubles match, and they weren't about to start here in Flanders.

This victory took Andy Murray's total wins into double figures for the Davis Cup year, with this his third doubles success with his brother, to add to his seven singles victories. Victory against Goffin would make him only the fourth player to win 11 or more rubbers in a year, joining John McEnroe, Michael Stich and Ivan Ljubicic.

But Andy Murray won't be so bothered about that; what he cares about is winning this trophy for his team.

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