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

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STE­WART FISHER

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

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