But as admirable as Murray has been when waging battles on his own out there on the ATP World Tour, he has been even more impressive when representing Great Britain in Davis Cup competition. Thanks almost entirely to Murray’s success and willingness to play for his country, the British are now in the Cup Final for the first time since 1978. They are determined to garner their first Davis Cup victory since the days of the illustrious Fred Perry in 1936. Murray has carried his nation honorably on his shoulders, leading them past the United States in the opening round of the World Group back in March. In July, the weekend after Wimbledon, Murray was the central figure in Great Britain’s triumph over France. And this past weekend, Murray was again almost solely responsible for his country’s victory, leading the British to a 3-2 win over Australia.
Consider what Murray accomplished across this year in Davis Cup. In the British 3-2 win over the U.S., he contributed two singles victories, toppling Donald Young in the opening match of the series, sealing the deal for his contingent on the final day against John Isner. Facing France at the Queen’s Club in London, Murray recorded a pair of triumphs in singles over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon, and joined forces with his brother Jamie to take the doubles over the tandem of Tsonga and Nicolas Mahut. The British defeated France 3-1. Finally, Murray repeated those heroics not many days ago, accounting for Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic in singles, teaming up with his brother to oust Lleyton Hewitt and Samuel Groth in a blockbuster of a doubles match.
So add it all up, and this is what you discover: Murray is 6-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles this year in Davis Cup. He has captured the decisive rubber in all three ties. He has been indispensable. Murray routed Kokkinakis 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 to put the British squad out in front at Glasgow over Australia. After compatriot Daniel Evans lost to Tomic in four sets to knot the score between the two nations at 1-1, the Murray brothers went to work against the combination of Hewitt and Groth. This was a classic confrontation, and a must win situation for the British. It was spellbinding from beginning to end, remarkably well played on both sides of the net by all four players, and a gripping spectacle with an outcome that could have gone either way.
Andy and Jamie Murray did not make the start they wanted, and that was understandable. Groth was the biggest server on the court, and he was returning well from the deuce court with impressive power. Hewitt was the ironclad man from the ad court, returning with enormous consistency and purpose, making timely advances to the net, urging his partner on with shouts of encouragement. His energy was almost palpable and his court sense was extraordinary. Hewitt first appeared in Davis Cup back in 1999. He took an extraordinary 16-5 doubles record on court with him, and his career Cup record in singles is 42-14. His experience was invaluable to the Australians.
On the opposite side, the left-handed Jamie Murray was the finest volleyer on the court. His forward movement behind returns and during points was outstanding. He was tactically agile. He poached brilliantly and persistently. Only on his serve and forehand return was he somewhat vulnerable; his location on his delivery was not extraordinary and his returns off the forehand flank were inconsistent. But those criticisms amount to nitpicking; Jamie Murray played a whale of a match. As for Andy Murray, he returned even better than Hewitt, and his backhand from the ad side was stupendous.
And yet, the Murrays had serious difficulty containing the Aussies early on. Groth was highly charged and deeply motivated, while Hewitt was disciplined, clear-eyed, cagey and resourceful. This was an ever enticing contest because both teams were so well balanced. The Australians broke Jamie Murray for a 3-2 first set lead as Hewitt came forward to dig out a low ball, threw up a deft lob down the middle, and forced the left-handed Murray into a backhand overhead error. Serving for the set in the ninth game, Groth saved two break points, stifling Andy Murray both times, once with a body serve and then with a speedier delivery to the backhand. Groth held on commendably to give the Australians the set, 6-4.
Yet Groth could not hold at another critical juncture. Serving at 2-3 in the second set, Groth had 40-15 but the Australians dropped the next three points. Down break point, Groth was compromised by a sharp, low Andy Murray return of serve. Jamie Murray crossed with impeccable timing, and put away a high volley down the middle. Neither Murray lost a point on serve thereafter, and they sealed the set 6-3. They headed into the third set with unmistakable confidence.
But the British pair found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 score-line in that pivotal third set. Yet they surged back to 4-4 as Jamie Murray held at love in the eighth game. Groth was ahead 40-15 on his serve in the ninth game, but he eventually lost that crucial game when the British partnership used their trademark one-two punch to great gain. Andy Murray’s low return allowed Jamie Murray to cross. Jamie Murray put away a leaping, high forehand volley. It was 5-4 for Great Britain. Andy Murray served it out in the next game, and his team moved in front two sets to one.
The fourth set left fans on both sides of the aisle exhilarated, exasperated, occasionally dazed and emotionally exhausted. At 4-5, Jamie Murray served at 0-40 down, and the Aussies seemed certain to reach a fifth set. But the Murray brothers battled back spectacularly. Jamie Murray sliced a first serve into Hewitt’s body that was unmanageable. He put away a forehand volley. Then the British competitors stood their ground beautifully at the net as Jamie Murray made three difficult volleys before Andy Murray finished off the point with a solid forehand volley down the middle. Groth lunged for a half volley when he should have let Hewitt play that shot. It was deuce. A gutsy Jamie Murray held on for 5-5.
The British broke Hewitt in the eleventh game, and Andy Murray served for the match at 6-5. He reached 30-0. But somehow the Australians collected four points in a row to break back. Hewitt drove a two-hander that whistled down the middle for a winner on break point. Jubilantly, the Australians advanced to a tie-break. With Hewitt serving at 5-6, the Australians found themselves match point down. But they saved it with a surprisingly good second serve from Hewitt and good work from Groth at the net. Having climbed off the canvas, the Australians took the next two points, winning the tie-break 8-6, moving on to a fifth set.
The Murray brothers did not waste time reflecting on their lost opportunity. They bolted to 3-0, winning 12 of 13 points in the process. But they were up by only one break, and with Hewitt standing across the net, that lead was unsafe. The Australians rallied for 3-3, breaking Andy Murray in the sixth game. Jamie Murray and Hewitt both held easily to make it 4-4, and then Andy Murray served the British into a 5-4 lead. Groth had the unenviable task of serving in the tenth game to keep his nation alive in the doubles. At 15-15, his second serve was ineffective. Jamie Murray’s return created the opening for Andy Murray to successfully poach. Now Andy Murray demonstrated why he is one of the two or three best returners in the world. Groth connected with an excellent first serve to the forehand, but Murray was right on top of it. He hit a clean, inside-out winner on the sideline. At 15-40, Jamie Murray kept his return low. Groth had to half-volley defensively. Murray cleanly released a backhand down the middle, and Groth’s backhand volley landed long.
Great Britain had prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4. Arguably, Jamie Murray was the best player on the court, and indisputably he was the most versatile doubles competitor out there. But Andy Murray’s contribution was substantial. He was the captain on the court, forthright from beginning to end, unwavering in his pursuit of victory, and an exemplary professional through and through. He knew full well that a loss in the doubles would have been catastrophic to the British cause. Had they gone behind 2-1, it would have been all but over because Evans would not have been up to the task of winning a fifth and climactic singles contest the following day.
But by coming through in the doubles, Andy Murray made life considerably easier for himself on the last day in the singles against Bernie Tomic. Knowing he could put Great Britain across the finish line, he was singularly focused on that goal. With Tomic serving at 1-2 in the opening set, Murray pounced, defending magnificently, achieving the initial break of the match. He built a 4-1 lead, rolled on to 5-2, and served for the set at 5-3. But, at this moment, Tomic affirmed why he resides at No. 20 in the world. He refused to drift away. With Murray serving in that ninth game, the British stalwart saved a break point and got to set point. He approached crosscourt off the backhand to the Tomic two-hander, but left too much room down the line. Tomic found a wide opening for a winner.
Murray was somewhat rattled. He double faulted, and then missed a backhand down the line wide. Tomic had broken back, and soon he held for 5-5. Murray, however, was unshaken. He held at love for 6-5 with one of his favorite patterns, serving down the T in the ad court to set up a forehand crosscourt winner. Swiftly, Murray built a 0-40 lead in the next game before Tomic cast aside two set points. At 30-40, though, Tomic ran out of luck. Murray released one of his finest backhand down the line drop shots, and Tomic had no play on it. Set to Murray, 7-5.
The rest was routine for the British No. 1. With more astonishing defense and unerring play from the backcourt, Murray broke for a 3-1 second set lead. He swept through the set 6-3, dropping only two points in his last three service games. Murray was now demonstrably at another level, and Tomic did not have the footspeed or the firepower to step up in the third set. Murray closed out the account handily 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.
Almost single-handedly, Murray has taken Great Britain into the Davis Cup Final. They will be hosted by Belgium at the end of November. Once more, Andy Murray—with some help from his talented brother in doubles—will need to take matters almost entirely into his own hands. There will be no margin for error from his standpoint. He must win both of his singles contests as well as capturing the doubles with Jamie Murray if Great Britain is going to celebrate a triumph in the esteemed international team competition. But he has not been beaten all year long in this forum. I believe he will keep that remarkable record intact, and lead his nation to a well-deserved victory over Belgium. There could be no better way for Andy Murray to conclude his 2015 season.