Team GB are not a one man team, Murray tells Belgium
Belgian claims he knows opponent’s game better than world No.2 knows his, but Scot insists he’s done his homework
ANDY MURRAY is happy to take the strain of playing all three days as Great Britain chase their first Davis Cup triumph since 1936 but warned Belgium that they would be making a mistake if they regard their opponents as a one-man team.
The World No 2’s participation on each day of Britain’s first Davis Cup final since 1978 was confirmed when captain Leon Smith left doubles expert Dom Inglot out of his four-man team, with room for two singles players in the form of Kyle Edmund and James Ward. While Edmund, a 20-year-old from Beverley, Yorkshire, will make a dramatic Davis Cup debut first up against Belgium’s No 1 player David Goffin, to be followed by Murray against World No 109 Ruben Bemelmans. Ward’s inclusion is an insurance policy should either Murray or Edmund suffer injury. For now, Belgium captain Johan van Herck has selected Steve Darcis and Kimmer Coppejans to contest the doubles on Saturday against the Murrays, but that is subject to change until an hour before the tie.
“The match against France I found very tough,” said Andy Murray. “That came on the back of the French Open, Queen’s and Wimbledon, which for me is a very stressful time of year. And they were quite draining matches. But I think I should be fine here..
“But I also believe in all of the players in our team,” he added. “Everyone, when they’ve been asked to, has stepped up and performed extremely well in the Davis Cup. Kyle has a lot of weapons on the court. It’s not going to be an easy match for David. If they are looking at it as Belgium versus me then I think that is counter-productive to be honest.”
While Inglot has been included in all three of Britain’s three previous ties during 2015, Smith said that part of his selection decision was actually “fairly simplistic”. Smith said: “There was no way Andy and Jamie wouldn’t be playing this rubber,
“They’ve played with such quality in the last two ties. So as soon as we made that decision, it’s much better to have more singles options because who knows what happens over the next couple of days.”
I think I probably know him better, how he plays, than him me. Maybe I have a slight advantage there
IF Great Britain do go on to win the Davis Cup this year their triumph will be made in Scotland, but girders won’t come into it. The roof at the Flanders Expo Centre in Ghent is three centimetres short of ITF stipulations, and while the British team, including captain Leon Smith and lob expert Andy Murray, downplayed this controversy, the relaxed World No 2 also used it for an injection of light relief. Had the low roof caused a problem in practice? “Some of Leon’s forehands have ended up in there, but I don’t think it’s affected the rest of us really,” he joked, drawing a look from his captain.
This pre-final press conference was also the scene of a minor diplomatic faux pas from Smith’s opposite number, Belgium captain Johan van Herck. In what is this country’s first Davis Cup final since 1904 – when they also went down to a British team including a pair of brothers, Reggie and Laurie Doherty – Van Herck said it was crucial for a partisan home crowd “to get on the back a little bit of the English – sorry the Brits, if I have to be correct.” It was an easy mistake to make; nobody took offence. Everybody knew that what he was really trying to say was the Scots.
This form of tennis is a team game, of course, but as far as Britain are concerned one man always takes top billing. While a shock victory for Davis Cup debutant Kyle Edmund against David Goffin today would leave the possibility of Andy and Jamie Murray sealing the deal in the doubles on Saturday, the World No 2 is bracing himself to play all three days and feels fit enough to do so.
Should he win all three to lift the gargantuan trophy donated by Harvard student Dwight Davis back in 1900 he would join the likes of John McEnroe, Michael Stich and Ivan Ljubicic as the only players in the Open Era to have won 11 Davis Cup rubbers in a calendar year. Indeed, he might have equalled John McEnroe’s perfect dozen from 1982 had he not skipped the doubles against USA after James Ward racked up the only non-Murray points accrued during this year’s campaign victory against John Isner.
Strange things can happen in the Davis Cup, but it would be one of the biggest shocks in its 115-year history if he wasn’t racking up a 32nd point in this competition by close of play today.
While Andy Murray and his opponent Ruben Bemelmans have never met before, either competitively or in practice, perhaps that is because the world No.2 and the world No.109 essentially inhabit different worlds.
While the Scot spent last week tuning his game amongst the superstars of the sport at the ATP World Tour Finals in front of 17,000 paying spectators, Bemelmans was fulfilling a previous commitment by turning out for Breton club Quimperle in the Premier Division of the semi-professional French club championship. While he won both matches, in singles and doubles, this is hardly the IPTL we are talking about. It is a bit like the world No.2 donning Bridge of Allan colours for a local derby against Stirling or Lionel Messi warming up for the World Cup final by playing for Newell’s Old Boys’ old boys.
Anyway, Bemelmans, the left hander and world No.109, reckons his relative lack of exposure to the cameras gives him an edge. “I think I probably know him better, how he plays, than him me,” said the 27-year-old. “Maybe I have a slight advantage there.”
He obviously doesn’t know Andy Murray as well as he thinks then. While the Scot’s lack of matches against all four of his Belgian opponents is a statistical quirk of this tie – he has met Goffin twice, winning both comfortably, and seemed to briefly forget yesterday about how he beat Steve Darcis in Glasgow way back in 2003 to win his first ever tournament – he promptly rhymed off an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bemelmans’ life and work. “We’re not that surprised [that he, and not Darcis, was picked],” said the 28-year-old. “The last couple of days obviously Leon and the coaching team have been watching their practices. That was kind of what we thought was going to happen. So it’s good that we were prepared for that.
“I don’t know him extremely well, but I’ve watched some of his matches this year,” he added. “I saw him play at the US Open, some of his matches against Wawrinka, some videos of him playing in the Davis Cup before.”
At least Bemelmans has no intention of being beaten before he walks on court. He lost in three tight sets to Wawrinka at Flushing Meadows and is a confident big guy. Asked how he was going to overcome Murray, his first answer was “by winning the last point”. “I think we have a clear plan and it’s up to me to execute this as well as possible,” he added.
As much as success in their first Davis Cup final since 1978 clearly means to Andy and Jamie Murray, captain Leon Smith, the remainder of the British team and a travelling army which will stretch into four figures and will be led as usual by the Stirling Uni barmy army, it should not be underestimated how much this has also become a holy grail for Belgium.
It is quite an advantage to play a final on home soil. Literally, in the case of the clay which has been laid in the Flanders Expo Centre. Particularly when they haven’t had to leave their home country all year.
Perhaps one day these finals will be played on neutral territory but throw in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and its security-related contagion to Brussels, and this is a nation with a cause.
“This weekend is about sports,” said Bemelmans. “I hope the people don’t think too much about what’s going on in Europe right now. And, hopefully, we can give the people a bit of a smile on their faces by winning this Davis Cup.”
ONE HAND ON THE TROPHY: Andy Murray and the rest of his GB team-mates pose for pictures with the Davis Cup