Match One: Andy Murray vs Taro Daniel.
It was the pairs first ever competitive match up, and Daniel may have thought that it would play into his hands- Murray being relatively in the dark about his playing style, as well as the fact it was Murray’s first competitive game since the birth of his daughter. But from the instant they walked on court it was clear it would not be so simple for Daniel, as the Birmingham crowd (captained by the Stirling University Barmy Army) created a special Davis Cup atmosphere, and that proved to be true, as there was little Daniel could do to stop Murray taking an easy three- set win.
The young Japanese Number Two, got off to the worse possible start as he was quickly down two games- without registering a single point. His own first service game, containing two double faults, showing perhaps the nerves he was feeling. Daniel woke up in the third game though and took Murray to deuce, despite the fact he seemed to be feeding Murray’s favoured backhand. However, even Murray did not look his normal supremely confident self, as he lacked conviction at several crucial moments. A better player may have made Murray pay for these lapses, but Daniel was unable to. The fourth and fifth games were relatively quiet affairs, with Murray winning both games easily, despite signs of class from Daniel. So at 5-0, perhaps with just pride to play for, Daniel did produce a solid performance to hold serve, after a couple of epic rallies, taking the score to 5-1. Though it only delayed the inevitable, of a Murray win, as he steamrolled the final four after a couple of unforced errors left him 30-0 down, to take a 6-1 win in just over 27 minutes.
Time on the court seemed to allow Daniel to settle, and he put in a much stronger performance in the second set. Taking Murray to 3-3, holding his serve in his first three service games, though after that Murray upped the intensity considerably, serving several aces and hitting a couple of stunning passing shots. As he won the final three games to take the second set 6-3. By his own admission Daniel’s “lack of experience was obvious” and that proved true in this set in particular, because he had a foothold at 3-3, but he allowed Murray to dictate the majority of the points, the Scotsman even coming to the net on a number of occasions- which meant Daniel lost the intensity he had played with in the first six games of the set.
In the third set Murray continued to grow and grow, putting more and more winners on Daniel- whose defences seemed to wain under the onslaught from Murray, especially in the second game- where Murray rolled out his full repertoire, making a selection of montage worthy winners, accompanied by an ace. The only blip on Murray’s performance in this set was in the fourth game, where Daniel employed several useful drop shots to win the game to love, a tactic he should have perhaps employed earlier in the match. After that normal service resumed and Murray won the last three games in just over 10 minutes, his serve looking especially strong towards the end, finishing with a first serve percentage of 71. Taking the final set 6-1, to finish with sparkling figures of 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
There were no major signs of fatigue or rustiness from Andy Murray, who was playing in his first major match since before the birth of his daughter, as he dispatched Taro Daniel’s efforts with consummate ease. Murray’s fans and coach alike will be happy with the fact after the game he said: “I was comfortable how I was hitting the ball, I served well and my movement was good.” Having won five of he and Nishikori’s six matches he’ll go into the fourth rubber on Sunday hopeful of wrapping up a victory for GB.
Highlights from the post match press conference.
Q. How did you feel the game went Taro?
‘The points started going Andy’s way. Balls I was going for started slipping away and a couple double faults really hurt my motivation. And that made me really nervous. And obviously he’s the second best player in the world, so if you don’t do your best it’s just going to slip away really quickly, and that’s what happened in the first set unfortunately for me.’
Q. Taro, what do you do now to refocus ahead of a potential decisive fifth match on Sunday?
‘I’m going to talk with the captain, with the coach back home, and with my parents. I mean, first of all try and get over this disappointment, but I can’t be too disappointed, I thought I played a few good points too. My lack of experience was obvious, but I felt there were some good moments so I’ll try build on them. So I’ll support the other players, until the possible fifth rubber and see what happens.’
Q- Andy, will you have to play better on Sunday?
‘It’s always difficult to know because I was hitting the ball well and when you talk of going up a level, your concentration is a little bit better with your intensity on every point, because it has to be. I was comfortable with how I was hitting the ball. I served well and my movement was good. I don’t know if I’ll have to play better on Sunday or not, I’ll just have to wait and see.’
Match Two: Dan Evans vs Kei Nishikori.
The World Number 6, Kei Nishikori, versus a man ranked 151 places below him- Dan Evans. You would have thought this match was a foregone conclusion with those stats. However, there were a number of factors which meant it could be a much closer rubber than first perceived. A. Evans had won the only match up they had played prior to this one. B. Evans had not only the home British crowd cheering him on, but a home Brummy crowd. C. Evans is known for being a big game player- and for toppling players ranked vastly higher than him. But none of that ultimately mattered, as Nishikori wrapped up the victory in three sets, much to the home crowd and Evans’ disappointment.
Nishikori took the first set 6-3, with relative ease to how he played the other sets. However, there were definite signs of promise from Evans who was serving well and going for his winners. There was a particular battle on the forehand, a shot both players favour, and they traded booming forehands all day long- one aspect of the match Evans probably actually came out on top of. Nishikori finished the set in style, with a win to love in to make it 5-3, before closing it out expertly.
In the second set Evans raised his game again, trading not only forehands, but games with the number six in the world. He even took the set to 5-5, before Nishikori went up a gear to deny Evans the chance of a tie break- taking the second set 7-5. For all of Evans’ intensity and undoubtable efforts, Nishikori always looked the smarter player- and this was shown by Nishikori who managed to hold his serve having been 40-0 down to Evans, employing wide serves to take the power out of Evans’ forehands.
Going into the third set you could see just how equal the match had been, as the percentage of first serves returned were very similar for both players. Evans having returned 68 per cent of Nishikori’s serves, with Nishikori returning 71 per cent of Evans’. It was in this set that Evans truly got going and began to put the Japanese number one under real pressure, with an array of perfectly weighted drop shots and several more savage passing shots. This good form earned Evans his tie break, after the two players had traded breaks of serve in this set, as well as the aforementioned forehands. Evans even led at points, having been 2-0 down. But ultimately Nishikori’s class shone through as he took the tie break 7-3, with some more smart tennis, meaning he took the match 6-3, 7-5, 7-6.
Certainly not a performance for Evans to be ashamed of, as GB’s captain Leon Smith said Evans once again played above his ranking. And for Nishikori, he will be pleased with the victory, but will now turn to concentrating on his next singles rubber on Sunday, against Andy Murray, and potentially the doubles match.
With the tie tantalisingly tied up at 1-1 after the first days play, the doubles match on Saturday will be crucial to the outcome of this tie. The men playing in the doubles will prove just as crucial, as both Nishikori and Andy Murray and their respective coaches seemed to imply that they would both play in the doubles, as Smith pointed out Murray is GB’s best player and Nishikori is Japan’s.
Highlights from the post match conference.
Q. Dan, not the result you wanted, but did you feel the level [you played at] was pretty good?
‘Yeah, the level was good. Obviously it was a tough match, but he played too good for me.’
Q. Dan, was it special to play in your home town?
‘Yeah, I thought the crowd were great. It was just like all the other Davis Cup crowds. Obviously being at home, with the guys in Birmingham, it is special, but it has just been like every other week. It’s been great. I always enjoy myself and feel welcome.’
Matt Bullin – Head of Sport.