Croatia try clay to put Andy Murray off Davis Cup stride
Great Britain’s Davis Cup captain Leon Smith has assured Telegraph Sport that his team “will go in with no fear”, after forthcoming opponents Croatia nominated the clay courts of Umag as the venue for their World Group play-off in September.
“I can see what they’ve done,” Smith said. “They know that Andy Murray is such a great indoor player, and that we’ve had our best results indoors even when he hasn’t played. But I am confident that our players can adapt. If anything, this is likely to be a bit of a leveller.
“Yes, Andy will be hoping to go deep into the US Open, which finishes four days earlier on a hard court, but then so will Marin Cilic, their top-ranked player, who has a good record in New York. The lack of surface-specific preparation time could make it tricky for everyone.”
Should Murray stay fit, he has promised to appear in September for his first Davis Cup match in two years. That would help Smith to field perhaps his strongest-ever team, and thus send Great Britain in as slight favourites against Cilic and his most likely ally, Ivan Dodig.
Clearly, the pressure would be on Murray to deliver wins in both his singles matches. But he has a good record against Cilic, having beaten him eight times and lost only once, at the US Open four years ago. The two men were born only eight months apart, and grew up as rivals on the junior circuit, so there are few secrets when they go on court.
Cilic and Dodig usually play on all three days of Croatia’s ties, combining for the doubles match on the middle Saturday. Here Great Britain should have the edge, too, given the excellence of their doubles pairing of Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray.
For the second singles slot, Smith will have to make a selection call between the two heroes of Coventry, James Ward and Dan Evans, who both beat Russians ranked a long way above them to earn Great Britain this shot at a return to the World Group for the first time since 2007.
In all probability, Croatia’s choice of venue will favour Ward – who won a Challenger event on clay in 2009 – over Evans, whose silky hands would be less of an asset on a slower surface. The clay produces a slower, higher bounce, meaning that you have to generate pace with your own physical strength and effort, rather than being able to feed off your opponent’s energy as Evans loves to do.
“Over the next few months, there is a great opportunity for whoever wants to play No2 singles to step up and nail that place,” Smith said. “Against Russia in Coventry, Ward and Evans created a reminder of what is possible, but they have to show that much hunger and desire every week.
“With both of them, we’ve seen flashes of their potential, but the clock ticks. I don’t know where they will end up in the game, but I would like to see them get close to the top 100, so that they can at least make a living from the sport.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/andymurray/10026331/Croatia-try-clay-to-put-Andy-Murray-off-Davis-Cup-stride.html