Davis Cup roundup: All the action as Great Britain storm through the group stage in Manchester

Great Britain secured a place alongside Australia in the knockout stages of the Davis Cup at Manchester’s AO Arena today, beating France in a tense final tie – and capping six days of high drama.

Four of the top tennis nations – including Team GB – descended on Manchester this week for Group Stage B of the Davis Cup Finals, billed as ‘the World Cup of tennis’. 

The group stages took place in four host cities from 12 to 17 September, with 28-time winners Australia, France, and Switzerland joining the Brits in Manchester’s round robin. The top two from each group stage progressed to the knockout stages in Malaga in November, so from the first match on Tuesday the stakes were high. 

GB’s lineup featured current top-30 players in Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans, along with former doubles world number one Neal Skupski, rising star Jack Draper, and Grand Slam champion Andy Murray. 

At the press conferences before the tournament Murray was confident that the team “really believe that there’s no reason why we can’t win the Davis Cup again,” and with the home crowd firmly behind them, the pressure was on. 

A record capacity crowd of 13,000 people at a UK tie on Sunday 17 September.

With one tie to be played each day, France got off to the perfect start on Tuesday, demolishing Switzerland in straight sets in all three matches. Three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka could not inspire his team to a repeat of their winning run in 2014, instead losing both his singles and doubles rubber. 

Great Britain took on Australia on day two, with Jack Draper eventually defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis in an epic, 3-hour triple setter dominated by serve and attritional baseline rallies. 

Dan Evans followed, racing to a 6-1 first set against Alex de Minaur, but the Aussie fought back to force a decider. Evans battled on to take the match and win the tie before the doubles rubber had been fought. 

In a consolation for the Aussies, last year’s Wimbledon champions Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden got their revenge over Evans and partner Neal Skupski with a straight-sets victory.

On day 3, Australia moved past their disappointment against GB by coming from behind to beat France 2-1. De Minaur improved to beat Ugo Humbert 7-6, 6-3, before Purcell and Ebden again showed their quality against veterans Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. 

The stakes were high on day 4: with Switzerland trailing badly, they had to win their tie against Great Britain in order to have a chance to progress. But their hopes were dented when British talisman Murray defeated Swiss debutant Leandro Riedi in another 3-hour contest, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. 

In an emotional post-match interview, Murray tearfully revealed that he had missed his grandmother’s funeral in order to play, saying, “Gran, that one is for you.” 

“I spoke to my dad about it and he said: ‘She would want you to play.’ He just said ‘make sure you win,’ so I did,” Murray said later. 

After Murray’s match, his old rival Wawrinka recovered from his disappointing showing on Tuesday to cruise past an out-of-sorts Norrie 7-5, 6-4. But the pairing of Evans and Skupski had more success, dominating Wawrinka and in-form Dominic Stricker 6-3, 6-3 to win the tie for GB.

Evans and Skupski celebrate winning a point.

GB were top of the group going into the weekend and had the chance to ensure qualification for Malaga on Saturday before even playing their final tie – if Switzerland beat Australia by at least 2-1. 

However, Kokkinakis turned around his singles performance against Draper – in which he had served for the match – to beat Stricker 6-3, 7-5. De Minaur then strolled past Marc-Andrea Huesler 6-4, 6-3.

It was up to Ebden and Purcell once again to secure qualification for the Aussies, against Stricker and Huesler. And the doubles specialists and Grand Slam champions did so in style, winning 6-2, 6-4. 

Australia’s comprehensive win meant that the battle for the final qualification spot would go right down to the wire, as GB took on France in Sunday’s closing tie of the tournament. 

GB captain Leon Smith opted to use all five of his players at the tournament, picking Evans and Norrie again for the final tie on Sunday. 

Evans got off to a nervy start in his match against 19-year-old Frenchman Arthur Fils, who appeared to be racing to a straight-sets win on his Davis Cup debut. He went 6-3 3-1 up as he manoeuvred Evans around the court; the Brit struggled with his physicality and appeared increasingly demoralised as the match went on. 

But the home support proved decisive as Evans stormed to win the next five games, taking it to a decider and using the record 13,000 people in attendance at a UK tie to his advantage. He eventually prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, thanking the “amazing crowd” for getting him through a tough match. 

Evans takes a selfie with members of the huge crowds at the AO Arena.

Norrie played France’s Ugo Humbert in the second match of the day, and with both players’ usual tactics neutralised by it being a clash of two lefties, it was a tight contest. Humbert took the first set in a tie-break 7-6 (7-5), but Norrie controlled the second to take it to a decider.

An edgy final set seemed destined for another tie-break, but Norrie double-faulted when match point down to hand Humbert the win, 7-6, 6-3, 7-5. 

The loss meant that the final match of the entire group stage in Manchester would decide which of Britain or France would be joining Australia in the final eight. Evans and Skupski took to the court once again to face Mahut and Roger-Vasselin in the all-important doubles rubber. 

It wasn’t the start they were after as France broke twice to storm to a 5-1 lead, before serving out to love and needing just one more set to eliminate GB.

But as in both singles matches of the day – and several throughout the tournament – GB stormed back in a nail-biting second set, keeping cool in crucial moments to take a tiebreak 7-6 (7-4).

The home support were a third player for Team GB, powering them on as the match – and entire tournament – entered its deciding set.

And that again went to a tie-break as the entire crowd held its breath. But GB capped off a spectacular week of tennis with a thrilling win as they claimed the final set breaker 7-6 (8-6), sparking raucous celebrations across the arena as GB advanced with Australia to the final eight in Malaga.

Images credit: © Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF

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