Match One: Andy Murray vs Kei Nishikori. 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3.
With two of the world’s best players taking to the court the packed Barclaycard Arena crowd were sure to be in for a treat. And that is exactly what happened; an enthralling five set encounter with both players battling both physical and mental fatigue to play comfortably the best tennis seen all weekend at the Davis Cup.
Murray got off to the best possible start, and did not seem to show any signs of tiredness in the opening set as he took it 7-5, trading a break of serve with Nishikori, before eventually winning the Japanese number one’s final service game of the set. Huge forehands from both players were definitely a feature of this first set, as the game got off to a rapid start, with world class shots being made by each player. Murray continued his good serving form too, which enabled him to lose just one service game in the first set.
Much to the home crowds enjoyment Murray won the next set as well, taking it after a topsy- turvy tie break which proved to be a microcosm of the overall game. The Brit raced into a 4-0 lead in the tie break before Nishikori came back at him hard, as Murray made several unforced errors, to win five straight points and take a slight 5-4 lead. The pair then traded hefty blows until Murray was able to serve a devastating ace to tie it up at 6-6. At this point he seemed to regain his composure and won the two vital points he needed to take the tie break 8-6, and the set 7-6. With Great Britain just one set away from advancing into the Davis Cup next round, and their talisman Andy Murray looking in imperious form, the crowd noise levels reached new heights.
But with two hours and 20 minutes already on the clock, Murray’s legs seemed to fade in the next set as Nishikori was able to win it 6-3, breaking the Murray serve in the crucial eighth game before serving out to take the set. In this set the world number six improved his return game, enabling him to dictate the majority of the rallies- meaning he could make Murray cover a lot of distance chasing down his balls, as well as employing many more drop shots than we had previously seen. With Murray losing impetus in the match, he became visibly irritable, and with each lost point his frustration grew.
Into the fourth set we went GB still just one set away from passage into the next round of the Davis Cup. But again, it was not to be, as Nishikori continued to quiet the home crowd with an array of winners both forehand and backhand, proving just why he currently stands at number six in the world. Despite the fact Murray upped his intensity towards the end of the set, banishing his emotions, and started to play as he did in the first two sets. But it was to no avail, as the damage was already done and Nishikori took the set 6-4 and squared the rubber at two sets apiece.
With well over three hours on the clock at the beginning of the fifth set it was difficult to not notice Murray’s exhaustion and his frustrations, but instead of his anger being detrimental to his play- it actually helped him raise his intensity, as he began to hit winner after winner. And as he began to dominate the rallies once more, employing several drop shots of his own, the crowd began to rise with him, eventually roaring him home as he took the set 6-3. But by no means did Nishikori roll over easily; he fought till the very end, making it incredibly hard for Murray to break his serve by mixing up his tactics with a variety of fast serves out wide, and some kickers down the middle. Nevertheless Murray was eventually able to break him to win the rubber and wrap up the tie, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 for Great Britain. So the Brits won 3-1, thanks to three superb wins from Andy Murray, with Dan Evans not needing to play the final rubber versus Taro Daniel.
What a weekend it has been here at the Barclaycard Arena. At times, the outcome of the tie looked in doubt. Kei Nishikori nearly made Great Britain’s decision to play Andy Murray in the doubles look silly, taking a tired looking Andy Murray to a fifth set. Luckily, Murray found the energy to fight off a brilliant performance from his inspired Japanese opponent in what turned out to be the deciding match of the tie.
Most importantly, however, Great Britain have shown once again the strength of their team. Dan Evans and Jamie Murray played important supporting roles for the world number two. Although Evans lost, he played at a level high above his ranking, and forced Nishikori to play some excellent tennis. Whilst Jamie Murray displayed the net-play and consistency that has earned him the world number two spot in the doubles rankings.
The next round promises to be quite a step up from what they have experienced in Birmingham. Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, despite seeming to be making heavy weather of defeating a Kazakhstan team that includes a 19-year-old, could prove a very difficult opponent. Murray would certainly not expect victory against his main nemesis, leaving the other Brit the difficult task of beating an experienced veteran in Victor Troicki, in order to reach the semi-finals. But they have done it before. Let’s hope they can do it again.
Highlights from the post- match press conference:
Kei Nishikori: “He (Murray) raised his level in the fifth set. I tried to focus but he was better.”
Kei Nishikori: “I thought I was playing good tennis, I lost some games and focus in the first two sets but I started playing better. I lost the match and it’s not easy, but I’m happy with my tennis.”
Q. Andy, could you tell us your thoughts on the quarter-final against Serbia?
Andy Murray: “Yeah, obviously it will be a tough match away from home, obviously that’s a big advantage when you get the home ties, but it comes at a difficult time of year and it’s not clear which surface they’ll put the tie on because Novak plays great on all surfaces, and you’d likely think that he’d get to the end of Wimbledon, so putting it on a clay court is a big change, and I don’t think it’s Trick’s best surface either. I think their best surface is hard courts, and with the Olympics coming up it would;don’t surprise me if they put it on hard courts.”
Q. You spoke on the court about positive energy on the fifth set, how did you go about resetting and rebooting after losing the previous two?
Andy Murray: “People say that the final lap is easier because you’re closer to the end, so it’s like you know you only have 35 minutes left, so with every game you are getting closer and closer, like at the end of the second or third set you know there could still be two, three hours left so it feels like you’re far away. But in the fifth when it’s just one set to go you just try and fight for every single point, because you know you’re not too far from the finish line.”
Matt Bullin & Caspar Goodwin.