The British team was a happy, if well-bundled-up, group at the media conference Saturday after Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray defeated Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil 7-6(1), 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-3 in the doubles to give Great Britain a 2-1 lead in the Davis Cup World Group opening round being played at the Arena at TD Place in Ottawa.
As with many doubles matches, it came down to a few key points – none more key, in hindsight, than the set point Nestor and Pospisil held leading 6-5 in the opening set.
Inglot (on left above) was serving and got down to a second serve and it wound up tipping over the top of the net and landing good for a let. That gave the Brits another chance and another second serve. Nestor, the returner, spoke about that afterward.
“I wasn’t happy with the one set point in the first set,” he said. “I kind of waited on a forehand return and he hit a serve to my backhand and kind of surprised me. It wasn’t a great serve by any means and I didn’t get a very good hit on it.
“If we win that first set then maybe we start rolling a little bit. We fought hard, but they created more chances. They were the better team.”
The numbers confirm that with Nestor and Pospisil only having two break points over four sets – none after the second set – and converting just one. Inglot and Murray had 10 – at least one in each set – and converted two.
Asked about Inglot’s fateful let second serve hit on set point that could have been a double fault, Nestor replied, “he could have missed but that’s not really what you think of as a professional athlete – to win that way. I’m not thinking what could have been with regards to them making a bad mistake on a big point, I’m thinking about what I could have done better.”
If there were first stars to be awarded to the two teams then Nestor and Inglot would probably be the picks. Some of Pospisil’s erratic play could be related to an upper left leg injury that affected him at times in his singles on Friday night and likely was a factor on Saturday.
The three tiebreaks – for a match that was so competitive – were strangely one-sided. In the first, Pospisil missed a backhand volley wide and then an overhead smash into the net to give Inglot and Murray a two mini-breaks advantage at 4-2. That was all they needed to wrap up the set.
In the second tiebreak, after the Canadians broke Murray in the opening game and the Brits broke back (Nestor) in the eighth, it was Inglot’s turn to have a bad patch – making unforced errors on the first three points to give Nestor and Pospisil a 3-0 advantage that they soon stretched to 6-2 (set point) on a Murray double fault.
In the third tiebreak, Pospisil double-faulted on the first point and then trailing 3-0, Nestor served and then hit a backhand volley wide to make it 4-0 – all the separation Inglot and Murray needed to close it out at the two-hour 32-minute mark in the match.
In the final set, the Brits broke Pospisil when he hit a weak forehand volley into the set to give them a 4-2 lead and soon the match was over in three hours and eight minutes.
“We knew it was a 50-50 match,” Murray said, “and the way the surface was and the conditions, there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of chances out there because everyone was serving well. We won the third set tiebreak which was huge for us. We both felt that they kind of dropped off energy-wise after that. There weren’t many chances but when we had them, we took them – at the end of the first set and the third set.”
The big question after the match concerned Pospisil and his fitness for a confrontation against Dan Evans in the fourth match – noon Sunday ET – which is a match-up of the respective teams’ No. 1 players.
Pospisil had a knee issue after Friday’s win over Kyle Edmund and the same leg was a problem in the doubles, with captain Martin Laurendeau massaging the leg during change-overs on Saturday starting in the third set and then Pospisil taking a medical time-out at the end of it. He also had kinesio tape on his lower back.
“I have plenty left in the tank,” Pospisil insisted during his English media conference about his chances of being fit enough to play on Sunday. “Physically I have a few niggles. If I can take care of that tonight then I have plenty in the tank to play five sets tomorrow.”
He added about playing the red-hot No. 45-ranked Evans, whom he defeated 6-1, 7-5 in the final of a Challenger event in 2013 in Vancouver, “I definitely I have the weapons to beat him.”
While there appeared to be bravado in his English account of his current state of affairs, in French he was more caution. “I’ve got some injuries,” he said. “I played with painkillers and that’s not good for your health. So we’ll evaluate with the team. I’m not the only one who’s going to make the decision, it will also be the physios. And if I’m not going to have fitness and health problems for the next few weeks, I’m going to play… if there are no risks. But if there are risks, you have to be smart. You have to look at the big picture with the physio. If I wake up tomorrow without pain, I’ll play.”
The alternative would be to substitute Peter Polansky, who actually ranks higher – No. 128 to No. 133 – than Pospisil but is not considered nearly as good a fast-court player.
“We have to do everything we can so that Vasek is able to play,” captain Laurendeau said, “it’s their No. 1 against our No. 1 and it’s a good tactical match-up against Evans. But we have to see if he can play. If he can’t play, there’s a replacement (Polansky) and we’ll be behind him.”
British captain Leon Smith is prepared for Pospisil to play. “A fit and healthy Vasek is obviously dangerous on these courts, it suits him,” Smith said. “He did look like he was tiring in the doubles. But he looks like the kind of guy who really likes playing for his country so, if he’s fit enough, he would play.
“The players are all a pretty similar level if Vasek’s not fit but I would expect him to play. We don’t know how bad the quad is – he looked okay in the singles.”
If Pospisil can pull off a win, it’s most likely Denis Shapovalov, who lost 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to Evans on Friday, who would face Brit No. 2 Kyle Edmund in a fifth and deciding encounter.
Watching from the sidelines on Sunday will be Nestor, who was asked the inevitable question, especially on the day he officially played in his 50th Davis Cup tie, how many more he might have in him. “I honestly don’t know,” he responded. “I’m frustrated right now. It would depend on the ties and where they are and how I feel. Right now I feel okay.”
Nestor has always been one to shine on Davis Cup Saturdays. In the British media conference on Saturday, doubles specialists Murray, ranked No. 8, and Inglot, No. 33, spoke about doubles in Davis Cup and what it means.
“It’s always really exciting to play Davis Cup and play on the Saturday,” Murray said. “Everyone who’s turning up has a vested interest in the match. You’re either for one team or the other – that’s what makes Davis Cup so unique. Saturday all eyes are on the doubles match. In my experience it’s often the most noisy of the three days. The people that come know they’re only getting that one match and they want to make the most of it. Also it’s a team event so I think that’s what really gets people into it as well.”
As for Inglot, he added, “it’s also a pivotal moment in the tie usually. If it’s one-all you can just kind of edge ahead and if you’re two love down, you can maybe bring it back to 2-1. There’s such a large amount riding on the doubles and the crowd feels that. If it’s just one match in the day you give it everything.”
With another enthusiastic and supportive crowd (expected to be about 7,200) on Sunday), the Canadian team will be hoping it will see more than one ‘live’ match.
The Canadian national capital has what is recognized as the “largest natural-frozen ice skating rink in the world.” It extends 7.8 kilometers (4.8 miles) from central Ottawa to Dow’s Lake.
Because of mild weather, the rink had been closed until the past few days when frigid temperatures have again made it safe for skating.