The 2015 Davis Cup final was always going to be about Andy Murray as he led his mates against Belgium in Ghent last weekend.
As long as he stayed fit, there appeared to be little chance for the host nation. The 28-year-old native of Dunblane, Scotland, withstood two singles and one doubles match with no physical ails and that basically sealed the fate of the Belgians.
Great Britain’s 3-1 victory in the final capped a year when Murray went 11-0 in four rounds of Davis Cup World Group action, leading his country over the United States (Glasgow), France (London), Australia (Glasgow) and Belgium (Ghent). There were eight wins in singles and three in doubles – including a key 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4 victory for him and brother Jamie over Australians Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt in the pivotal doubles in the semifinals.
“What he’s put himself through this year is astonishing,” British captain Leon Smith said about Murray.
Last weekend’s tie wound up being competitive and entertaining but it might not have been so had Belgian No. 1, No. 16-ranked David Goffin, not rallied in the opening singles to defeat Davis Cup rookie Kyle Edmund. The 20-year-old Brit was lights out in the first two sets, whaling forehand winners like he was the second coming of Juan Martin del Potro. But the tide turned in the third set as Goffin assumed control and eventually won 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. Later, the No. 100-ranked Edmund said he had cramped and Goffin would admit he had been distracted early on by the presence of the King and Queen of Belgium.
Happily for the storyline, after Murray beat Ruben Bemelmens 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, the score was 1-1 after the first day.
The doubles on Saturday was more competitive than many expected – and might have been even more so had Steve Darcis, playing with Goffin, not been struggling to overcome forearm and shoulder issues.
But still, on paper, the Brits were a far superior team as the No. 7-ranked (individual doubles) Jamie was half, with John Peers of Australia, of the No. 4 doubles team on tour in 2015. Andy, when eager and motivated as he was in Davis Cup this year, is definitely a better player than Peers. So Murray-Murray were always going to be formidable, and they came through 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Afterward, captain Leon Smith tipped his cap to former Canadian Davis Cup captain Louis Cayer (now employed by the Lawn Tennis Association) when he called the Canadian, “the best doubles coach the world has to offer.”
The ultimately decisive singles on Sunday – Murray vs. Goffin – is probably worthy of a boxing (Murray is a huge fisticuffs fan) analogy. Goffin was just pounded with too many body blows from the baseline and the over-matched Belgium was basically battered into submission. Still, considering Murray had dismantled him 6-1, 6-0 at the Paris/Bercy indoor Masters 1000 a month ago, welterweight Goffin, 150 pounds, did well battling a light-heavyweight Murray, 185 pounds, for two hours and 54 minutes.
The Belgian fans, including the beloved Kim Clijsters, did all they could to support their team but the Brits just had too much firepower – with most of it belonging to world No. 2 Murray. The career-high rankings of Britain’s other singles players in its 2015 ties were Edmund (99), James Ward (89) and Dan Evans (123).
Murray, leading his country to its first Davis Cup since the legendary Fred Perry did the same in 1936, was overcome after the final point. But he quickly interrupted his collapse to the ground, right after his backhand topspin lob landed good on match point, to get up and shake hands with Goffin.
“We’ve won some tough matches and everyone that’s played has played at an unbelievable level,” an emotional Murray said in his post-match, on-court interview. “We’ve had chances in almost every single match that we’ve played. I can’t believe we did it.”
Whenever he has the opportunity, Murray supports and encourages the most obscure of British players by following their matches on the Internet. And he’s probably the most team-oriented of his fellow Big-Four players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
He’s also very family-oriented as is obvious in his explanation of why he shouted, during the second set of Sunday’s match, at brother Jamie to stop standing near the court (and not courtside with the other British players) in a corner. “He was right in the corner there and I could see him out of my eye-line,” Andy explained. “That’s one of the things I mean, when you know your family’s there and how much it means to all of them…I try to avoid eye contact with Jamie during the matches because you can see their stress because you know them better than the other players.”
That Murray family will grow by one soon as Andy’s wife Kim Sears is scheduled to give birth in February.
So, Murray (with Belgian captain Johan Van Herck above) has just completed an amazing four years for the least celebrated of tennis’ Big Four. There was an Olympic gold medal in 2012 at home in London followed by his first Grand Slam title at the US Open two months later. Then it was a Wimbledon championship in 2013 and now, after a back surgery in September 2013, a long-awaited Davis Cup title.
Murray has lifted a country that was ranked as low as No. 43 to its current No. 1 spot. Five years ago Britain won a Group II Europe/Africa playoff round against Turkey on grass in Eastbourne to avoid falling into the catacombs of zonal Group III competition.
Though his image on court can be dour and boorish – Murray received two reprimands for audible obscenity during his opening singles match last Friday – he is widely liked and respected by people on the tour.
The following tweet on Sunday by Portuguese tennis reporter Miguel Seabra says a lot.
— Miguel Seabra (@MiguelSeabra) November 29, 2015
So, what now for Murray? “The Australian Open is next and I’ve lost in the final there four times,” he said on Sunday. “I need to actually learn a few things from this weekend – how I handled everything and my attitude toward every single point. I made it very, very difficult for David today. I made him work hard for every point. I’ll try to do that at the beginning of the year in Australia. But I’ll enjoy this one.”
Denis and Felix baby steps
Advancing in the ATP rankings gets tougher the higher a player goes. That’s easily understood by looking at the recent progress of promising Canadian juniors Denis Shapovalov, 16, of Richmond Hill, Ontario, and Félix Auger-Aliassime, 15, from Montreal.
Two weeks ago, before Shapovalov played a $10,000 Futures event on clay in Pensacola, Florida, he had one point in the rankings and was No. 1997. By reaching the semifinals, he earned six points and moved up to No. 1162 in the rankings released on Monday. (Note: Futures points earned are delayed by a week, not included immediately as are ATP and Challenger tour results.)
Going from No. 1997 to No. 1162 seems like a significant jump but Auger-Aliassime serves as a cautionary tale about how things get more difficult as a player climbs the rankings.
He had 28 points – 23 from qualifying and reaching the quarter-finals of the $100,000 National Bank Challenger in Granby in July and five from qualifying for the $50,000 National Bank Challenger in Drummondville in March (both while he was 14 years old) – and received two points for making the quarter-final of a $10,000 Futures tournament on clay in Lima, Peru two weeks ago. Those two points moved him from No. 769 to No. 760 – not much of a jump.
Last week, Auger-Aliassime again reached the quarters of another Futures in Lima, and those two points will only move him up to about No. 750 in next week’s rankings.
So, six points at the bottom end like Shapovalov gets a player an 835-point boost in the rankings. But at mid-range, like Auger-Aliassime, a four-point addition only nets about a 20-point advance.
Next month both Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, reigning US Open junior doubles champions, will be Down Under and compete in the junior event at the Australian Open.
Enough already – how much bigger can some of these sports trophies get?
That’s the Davis Cup trophy in the background in the picture at the top. Beginning as a simple silver salad bowl donated for competition by American Dwight David in 1900, it has grown and now comes with a substructure that threatens to become gargantuan over the next couple of centuries.
When he first saw the trophy and its size last week, Andy Murray wondered how his team would be able to take it home if they won.
The Davis Cup isn’t the only trophy to expand. The Grey Cup (left), emblematic of the Canadian Football League championship, looks positively pregnant in its current iteration. It (as the modest cup at the very top) was first awarded by the 4th Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, in 1909.
Hockey’s Stanley Cup isn’t much better, getting bulkier by the decade while the trophies in the other main North American sports – football, baseball and basketball – have managed to stay unchanged from their original dimensions.
Wimbledon’s Challenge Cup (men) and Venus Rosewater Dish (women), have remained the same size decade after decade, as have the trophies at the other three Grand Slam tennis events.
When a new champion is pictured with a trophy for a championship victory – shouldn’t the award look the same from generation to generation?
The original Davis Cup now sits atop three “plinths,” which have been added over the years to accommodate all the winning teams, and can be removed. Still, shouldn’t it be KISS (keep it simple stupid) with these monstrous, grossly expanding creations?
Isn’t it better, like Wimbledon’s same trophy since 1887, to see Bill Tilden in the 1920s, Rod Laver in the 1960s and Roger Federer in the 2000s with the identical prize in the context of historical continuity?
(NOTE: As per the 2015 Wimbledon Compendium: “In 2009, there being no space left to engrave the names of champions, a black plinth with an ornamented silver band was designed to accompany the Cup.”)
(NOTE #2: The emphasis there is on “accompany” the trophy, not ‘attached to’ it.)
A canine perspective
Davis Cup winning Andy Murray and wife Kim Sears are renowned dog lovers – need we say more!
James Blake incident during the US Open
Read GQ’s story about it here.