Julien Benneteau / Nicolas Mahut def. Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray 7-6(7) 5-7 7-5 7-5
The stakes were high after a disappointing start to their campaign where Kyle Edmund as the lead-off man failed to capitalise on his chances. Even Dan Evansadmitted that he believes he will ‘get’ the clay after being taken to task quite routinely by Jeremy Chardy.
Leon Smith had to concede, the Brits would need chances – lots of them if they wanted to make a dent in this tie. While the Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray combination had been successful on their last to runs out, they were up against a formidable pairing in Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut.
Before reuniting for the first time since the 2015 Davis Cup quarter-final earlier this year to claim the Marseille title, the pair had partnered each other dating way back to the Futures in 1999.
If the opening exchanges were anything to go by though, they would be made to work hard of it with nary a sniff of a break point in the first nine games.
It is not as if they didn’t have them, but they had to work hard for them. In the first set the first break points were a trio of set points for the Brits, who also saw a fourth set point come and ‘allez’ in the first set tie-break.
After a trade of breaks in the third, the French edged the set on their third break point, having come from 2-4 down. Give credit where it is due, the Brits’ heads did not drop as once more no ground was given until the final game of the fourth set.
Murray had been in general magnificent at the net and while Inglot was serving to stay in the tie the first time around saved the Brit’s chances with a series of confident overheads, but the cruellest of net-tape clips finally did for the Brits, serving to stay in it at the second time of asking, and sending the French into the Davis Cup semi-finals.
Great Britain registered their first 0-3 result since facing Ukraine in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I back in 2009. Since then their fortunes have been ever improving under the masterful eye of Leon Smith – -but this one will hurt.
He said, after the match: “It’s always disappointing to lose, because we’ve got used to going a little bit deeper into the year. You know we played against a very good team and we’ve still maintained our World group status which was important for us, so that’s a big positive. It was always going to be a difficult tie.”
To reach the quarter-final is still a solid achievement. Since winning the whole shebang with a great run in 2015, and building of a now tried and tested encouraging team environment, the have reached the semi-finals (2016) and now the quarter-finals so all in all they are still one of the top tennis nations and it is not too shabby.
As Smith said – Great Britain stay in the World Group, as he went on to explain: “The strategy [is] start again next year, it’s as simple as that and hopefully the team gets stronger because you know we’ve got Andy and Jamie at the very top of the game. [Dom Inglot] keeps looking to improve as much as he can and if he becomes a top 20 doubles player, kick on from there and hopefully likes of Kyle and Evo can continue to cement themselves from where they’re at but also keep improving their game so you know one or both of them become a Top 30, Top 25 player then suddenly you can start again next year in a stronger position.”
Undoubtedly the work he has put into his clay court game has seen him reap the rewards. He won his first two clay titles in quick succession in 2015, backing it up with the Rome Masters and the Roland Garros final last year, not to mention his winning turn in 2015 on the dirt in Belgium to win the Davis Cup for Great Britain in the first place.
But the elbow injury that left his US hard-court spring in tatters ruled him out of this week, as he trains in Nice this week at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy ahead of defending a fairly hefty whack of points on the clay and then on the grass.
There is also an argument that he is not going to be around forever. The younger players will eventually need to carry the mantle of the Davis Cup without him, but there is also a niggling feeling that had he been part of the team, it would have made more sense to play him and Kyle Edmund while Evans literally still has to find his feet on the clay.
Smith continued: “Everyone knows that Andy was going to play this tie, so hopefully when Andy comes in, everyone else is stronger again, and then you go again.”
What about this weekend?
Fans from both nations have parted company with good money for a weekend of tennis, and the final two ‘dead’ rubbers will be played over three sets for a chance for Great Britain to salvage some pride. But in reality the most we can hope for is one consolation win for Kyle Edmund if he can take his aggressive and competitive play of Friday into the final match with Jeremy Chardy.
The final day’s play in the Davis Cup quarter-final tie between France and Great Britain will take place on Sunday 9 February at 1:30pm (12:30pm BST).
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