Rafael Nadal at the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, Madrid
Rafael Nadal at the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, Madrid | Getty Images

Tennis | Davis Cup Finals 2019 | ‘That one will hurt for a while’ Reflections on GB’s semi-final loss to Spain

By Ros Satar at the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid

  • Kyle Edmund def. Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6(3)
  • Rafael Nadal def. Dan Evans 6-4, 6-0
  • Rafael Nadal/Feliciano Lopez def. Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski 7-6(3), 7-7(8)
MADRID, SPAIN – Great Britain were agonisingly close to a spot in the final but denied in a thrilling doubles deciding match.


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Kyle Edmund def. Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6(3)

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As if there had not been enough drama in the previous semi-final between Canada and Russia where the Canadians made it through in the deciding doubles to their first Davis Cup final, as the stadium switcheroo was taking place an announcement was made that Pablo Carreno Busta would be replaced by Feliciano Lopez, shortly before the teams did the walk-on.

Kyle Edmund showed no early signs of being floored by this very late change to the nominated team in what was generally accepted to be a must-win rubber for both teams, leaping out to a 3-0 lead while Lopez looked decidedly jittery in the opening exchanges.

Lopez steadied the ship to get on the board as slowly his serve started to come together, but to no avail as Edmund served the first set out on his second set point. The second set was competitive from the off, with no sniff of a break point for either player with Edmund averting danger saving two set points on his serve to force a tie-break.

After trading mini-breaks Edmund nudged ahead as Lopez lost his serve twice leaving Edmund to mop up the tie-break with his two serves to give Britain a 1-0 lead in the semi-final.

Edmund said, after the match: “I found out five minutes before, basically. Busta actually came to warm up, on the bike two minutes, he left. I said straightaway, ‘Something is a bit weird there.’ Then straightaway the guy came in.

“I think they knew what was going on, but they just sort of went to the rules, they could do that. And yes, as soon as I found out, there’s no point trying to argue it, Feli is the guy I was playing.

“I was good within myself, like, where I was at, how I was feeling. I was just enjoying going out to semi-finals of a Davis Cup against Spain. I knew it was going to be loud out there. And it almost, in a way, didn’t matter who I was playing, I was just concentrating on being me first and putting myself out there. I dealt with it really well, I thought.”


Rafael Nadal def. Dan Evans 6-4, 6-0

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The task ahead of British No. 1 Dan Evans would be to take down the World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. Predictably the first break point challenges fell to Nadal, but it was not as easy as he or maybe the crowd hoped to get an early break, as Evans stayed toe-to-toe with the home crowd favourite.

Evans threw everything at Nadal, but the bull is nothing if not relentless, breaking the Brit to take the first set. From there, there was no stopping Nadal as he tore through the second set, winning eight games on the bounce, to being everything down to the doubles.

He said, after the match: “[Nadal] was good. And listen, our mantra, what you want to call it, is to fight until the end. And I thought I did that pretty good. Everybody who stepped out on the court this week for Great Britain’s done that, win or lose. And it’s just what I tried to do.

“I thought Kyle did an unbelievable job just dismantling [Lopez]. And you know, he never really got into the match. And for the year Kyle’s had, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, what he’s done in the last two months has been extraordinary to get himself back. I’ve seen it first-hand.

“He’s worked hard. And to turn it around in Paris and keep going where people could have just stopped the year, and then he’s come here, he got picked to play here, and what he’s done here, he’s looked basically back to top-20 player again.”


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Rafael Nadal/Feliciano Lopez def. Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski 7-6(3), 7-7(8)

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In a vast step up from the smaller stadiums for the group stages and the quarter-final, the atmosphere continued to be electric resulting an extremely nervous looking Neal Skupski who together with Jamie Murray, had the task of taking on the changed team of Lopez and Nadal.

Despite one long hold on the Skupski serve with a solitary break point batted away, the pace of the first set was blistering with quick fire volleying and really showing doubles at its best (despite the fact Andy Murray looked like he was suffering every point with his brother).

The Spaniards were next to feel the pressure with a long, twisting and turning game, this time with a break point chance for the Brits going begging. The tie-break was all Spain, taking an early lead and despite the Brits claiming one of the mini-breaks back, the first set went to the hosts, now one set away from a spot in the final.

The Brits were the first to harbour a break point in the second set, again unconverted, in another tight set with a chance to break in the last game denied by more clutch play from the Spanish pair.

Into a second tie-break and this time it was every bit as tight as the set before it. With three more set points for the Brits, they were forced to save two match-points before Spain delivered for the fan-faithful as they advance to take on Canada in the final on Sunday.

Murray said: “It was a great match. I think it was very close. I think both teams took care of their serves very well. I think, yeah, it was a great atmosphere. It was exciting to be a part of it. I think it kind of showcased how exciting doubles is and how good a sport it is.

“I think everyone that would have been there in the stadium tonight and people that watched at home would have enjoyed that match for everything that it had.

“I’m obviously really disappointed – not that we lost the match, but even that we didn’t find a way to get one of the sets. But, you know, that’s just the way it goes. And, you know, that one will hurt for a little while, I think. You’ve got to give credit to them. We had our chances at the end. We didn’t quite find a way to get through. But, yeah, I mean, it’s a match that I’m sure I’ll remember when I finish my career for sure.”


Leon Smith’s reflections on the tournament

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There were still questions around the seemingly late withdrawal of Busta. While Spanish press had reported his substitution well before the nominations sheets had been put in (without Lopez), the official announcement came minutes before.

Smith said: “I thought it was really late. You know, that was literally five minutes before. And, yeah, it’s not ideal preparation to go into what is a huge match. And you know, the whole point when you practice and you go through things and you hand your nominations in an hour before the match, that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

“And then, you know, he was on the bike warming up beside us at the same time, got off the bike, then the next thing, Wayne runs up and says they’re changing the team. Look, it might be genuine, I don’t know. But it might be a freak injury that’s happened. But, yeah, it’s not ideal.”

Given Murray’s late return to the tour and the swings in Edmund’s form coming in to the tail end of the year, as well as the slow start to the doubles partnership of Murray and Skupski, that GB made the semi-finals in the new format was something Smith would rightly praise.

He continued: “I think we should be very proud — look, it’s obvious that people will be a bit low just now — they should be very proud of what our team has done. I think they’ve played really, really well. We’ve had some great moments.

“It’s been extremely intense obviously playing back-to-back days, which has been a challenge, and that’s maybe something one of the things that could be looked at is it’s an advantage to have a day’s grace somewhere.”

There is no doubt that the atmosphere created by British travelling fans from the group stages through to the influx of fans care of the LTA made he experience what it was in this inaugural format.

Smith summarised: “I think we’ve enjoyed the experience. I think in terms of facilities, it’s excellent. We’ve been very, very well looked after.

“I think the most important thing about Davis Cup is obviously trying to maintain the atmosphere. That’s what everyone will talk about. And I’m sure there’s going to be a huge amount of
feedback, strategy sessions, brainstorming about how to, you know, mitigate the likelihood again of having crowds that are 30 percent, 40 percent.

“I think there are other ways to be creative about how we help each federation to get — like, I think what the LTA have done today is exceptional. I think it’s absolutely
exceptional what the LTA has done.

“Whether there are ways at looking at that to say, Well, why doesn’t that become the norm that there’s X amount of investment given to each federation to get a core group of fans? Because we saw even with over 1,000 people come here today, it was amazing. But even Kazakhstan, I think they brought over 100 of their own, and it sounded like a proper Davis Cup tie when they do. If every nation was able to do that and have a core group, I think the atmosphere would be really good.”

The final of the Davis Cup will be played on Sunday, not before 4pm.


How to watch the Davis Cup Finals

Eurosport 1/Eurosport Player

(Requires Subscription)

Monday 18 November 3pm – 9pm
  Tuesday 19-Saturday 23 November 10am – 11pm
  Sunday 24 November 3pm – 9pm


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