Mayer proves to be worthy deputy for Del Potro as Orsanic calls GB’s bluff
UAN Martin who? The Murray brothers are busy rewriting the Scottish sporting stereotype but for Birmingham’s finest, Dan Evans, there was a taste yesterday of what is known in these parts as glorious failure.
It was Leonardo Mayer who won the battle of the super subs by a 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 scoreline to end Britain’s hopes of repeating last year’s victory in this competition and leave Argentina with pretensions of their first title.
The most unlikely comeback this side of Ben Ainslie in the Americas Cup or the Miracle of Medinah in the Ryder Cup had seemed a realistic possibility as Evans bounded on court in place of the advertised Kyle Edmund to contest the climax of this suspensefilled Davis Cup semi-final at the Emirates Arena.
By the stats at least, the Brummie was a marginal favourite going in here. He was ranked No.53, compared to Mayer at 114, and did at least have some form in these fifth rubbers, having won twice in this position, including a big win against Evgeny Donskoy to complete a remarkable recovery from a 2-0 first-day deficit against Russia back in Coventry in 2013. While that was in fact Evans’ last singles win in this competition, he was in decent nick, having pushed eventual US Open winner Stan Wawrinka as hard as anyone at Flushing Meadows earlier this month.
While eyebrows were raised when Juan Martin del Potro’s name wasn’t called by Argentina captain Daniel Orsanic, it was worth noting that Mayer too was a man of substance and those crafty Argentines had been plotting to play him from pretty much the moment Del Potro dragged his weary frame off court against Andy Murray on Friday night.
Outwith the world’s top 100 or not, the 29-year-old Mayer had been ranked as high as No.21 last June, and had quietly won his last nine singles rubbers in this competition. While this year hasn’t panned out exactly as he had intended, Mayer had won a Challenger event in Italy only last month and had the benefit of playing himself into form in the doubles against the Murray brothers.
At first, everything was going to Great Britain’s plan. Evans had 30-30 on the Mayer serve in that very first game then had the break of serve, the Argentine appearing ill at ease in his first experience of a deciding rubber.
The Emirates crowd sensed the comeback was on as Evans took that first set 6-4.
But, just as Mayer’s serve and forehand had heated up during Saturday’s doubles rubber, so it did here too. For a while every single first serve he struck was on the money, and his second serves even better.
He won 85 per cent of first serve points in total, and 97 per cent on second. Just four points were dropped on serve throughout the second set, and four again in the third, while inroads were being made into every Evans service game. The Argentine’s forehand to Evans’ backhand was invariably a winning combination and soon the Brummie, a reformed bad boy bearing a tattoo with an Oscar Wilde quotation “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future”, was wondering what the future held for him here.
He flung his racket away in disgust as he trudged off for a toilet break to compose himself for the challenge of winning this one the hard way.
There was the small beginnings of a momentum swing at the start of that fourth set, the watching Andy Murray risking his thigh injury as he climbed off his seat to mark Evans saving multiple break points for a big hold, but even technology wasn’t on Britain’s side yesterday.
Hawk-Eye was malfunctioning when a ridiculous tweener lob from Evans was called narrowly out, meaning the original call stood.
One last British backhand into the net handed Mayer the service break he required, before a gleeful volley into the open court on match point gave Argentina a deserved victory. They broke into an impromptu mass huddle.
“I had a few chances to get into the match but after the first set I was never in the match,” admitted Evans, having lost his first deciding rubber since Lithuania back in 2010. I felt a lot of pressure on my serve and he served unbelievably. Getting the ball back into the court was tough and when I did he played pretty well from the back. I thought he was aggressive and took a lot of time away from me.”
“We sort of knew, sort of didn’t,” was his take on his opponent. “We had an idea but I think they played it pretty well by warming everybody up. That’s Davis Cup isn’t it? It’s a good way of keeping your cards close to your chest.”
Hidden somewhere at the bottom of that huddle was the form of Leonardo Mayer. “After the tough years I have had, it was an amazing match for me and I was delighted when I got the call to be part of the team for the Davis Cup,” he said.
Orsanic, the captain, added: “Leo’s match was something we believed could happen, but I think it was a great effort from his part after playing a little nervous in the first set. He came out with his best tennis, the tennis we used to see, the tennis that made him win a lot of Davis Cup matches. That’s why we believed in him.”
FULL FORCE: Mayer’s forehand invariably found its way on to Evans’ backhand and the British man had no answer for his South American opponent.