The ghostbuster of British tennis struck again.
Laying the ghosts of the past to rest is Andy Murray’s speciality and the man who succeeded in his remarkable solo mission to end Great Britain’s wait for a male singles champion in a grand slam, Wimbledon and the Olympics powered his country to Davis Cup glory for the first time since 1936 after three days of frantic tennis against a gutsy Belgium team. Murray has ended a combined total of 336 years of hurt.
Was this phenomenal achievement ever in doubt? It was always likely that Leon Smith’s team would have too much for their Belgian hosts simply because they had the world No2 in their corner. When Smith and his players looked at the genius with the ultra-competitive mentality, any anxiety they were feeling gave way to calm trust. Murray was never going to let them down and, if he had played with any more authority in his decisive victory over David Goffin in the third singles rubber, they would have had to put him in charge of security at Ghent’s Flanders Expo.
This was Murray’s 104th match in 2015 but he overwhelmed Goffin with his defensive skills, imagination and a magnificent backhand lob on his second championship point. Goffin played out of his skin at times and the world No16 still fell short.
Murray is too decent a person to take all the plaudits and he was quick to pay tribute to his team-mates, the support staff and Smith, the captain who took over when Britain’s Davis Cup was at its lowest ebb five years ago. It has certainly been a team effort. If Murray is Peter Venkman, then his big brother is Ray Stantz. The Murray brothers have partnered each other to three doubles victories from the quarter-finals onwards and Jamie was inspired once he overcame his nerves in Saturday afternoon’s crucial win over Steve Darcis and Goffin.
James Ward was a spectator here – he would have played Darcis if it had gone to a deciding fifth rubber – but Britain would not have been beaten the USA in the first round without his victory over John Isner, the world No11, while there is an argument that Kyle Edmund’s unsustainable brilliance in the first two sets of his defeat by Goffin in the opening rubber softened up Belgium’s leading talent for Murray.
Smith, who has known Murray since he was 11, deserves praise for the patience and leadership he has shown while reviving Britain. The Scot took over when John Lloyd resigned in 2010 after five straight defeats and his first match was the relegation play-off against Turkey. Britain won 5-0 and five years down the line they top the Davis Cup rankings.
Murray did not regard this as a personal triumph and he fed off the support from his team-mates. When Jamie briefly disappeared after the first set, Murray Jr looked a little lost without his brother at courtside. When he spotted Jamie munching on a protein bar by the tunnel, he furiously beckoned at him to return to his seat. Jamie rushed back and Andy won the next two points.
Yet a team event was still settled by individual brilliance. The Murray brothers, whose grandparents travelled from Dunblane to cheer them on, have won 11 of Britain’s 12 points and Andy has won singles matches against Isner, Donald Young, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Bernard Tomic, Ruben Bemelmans and Goffin while he also became the first player to win three live rubbers in a Davis Cup final since Pete Sampras 20 years ago.
If there is a fly in the ointment for Michael Downey, the Lawn Tennis Association’s chief executive, it is that the talent pool behind Murray is not vast. Edmund, the British No2, is ranked 100th in the world and questions linger in the background. Scrub Murray out and the picture is not quite as rosy.
Nonetheless this was a moment of deep pride for British tennis and, when Murray was swamped by a mass bundle after that wonderful lob drifted over Goffin, he was united in ecstasy with a group of people whom he counts as friends first and colleagues second. And life does not get much better than that.
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