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JAMES WARD clinched victory for Great Britain over Tunisia yesterday in a five-set Davis Cup epic which sees the country move a step closer to gaining promotion back to Group 1.
Ward, the World No.214, was pushed all the way by Malek Jaziri, ranked 111 places below him, but the Brit eventually came through 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 in a three hour, 45 minute match which had the crowd at the Bolton Arena on the edge of their seats throughout.
Glasgow’s Jamie Baker then beat Slim Hamza in the final dead rubber 6-1 6-4 to seal a 4-1 victory for Britain who now progress to a Europe/Africa Zone Group II Second Round tie in July against Luxembourg at home, the venue for which has yet to be decided.
“It is another win and another step in the right direction but we should be winning matches at this level,” said the British captain Leon Smith, who now has two wins out of two since taking over the job from John Lloyd who resigned last year. “I was very pleased by the way James battled through that one in the end. That wasn’t easy and he showed a lot of heart to get through it.”
Britain started the final day 2-1 up in the tie after the Scottish pair of Colin Fleming and Jamie Murray had come through a tight four set doubles encounter on Saturday. And the early signs in yesterday’s opening singles match indicated that it would be similarly close, with Ward going down an early break in his opening service game. The Brit appeared to be struggling with a heavy cold and Jaziri went on to take the first set 6-3.
Ward stepped his play up in the second set though and hit back by taking it 6-3. However, the match ebbed and flowed and Jaziri had the home crowd looking towards a potential deciding fifth rubber when he took the third set by the same scoreline. Again though, Ward found his form and he took the match into a fifth set by winning the fourth 6-3.
The 27-year-old Tunisian had previously only played three competitive matches that went past three sets in his career, but he continued to battle hard to keep his side in the tie and had the watching Lawn Tennis Association officials squirming in their seats when he went a break up at 4-2. He had a game point to go 5-2 up but Ward saved it and immediately broke back.
The set continued with serve until Ward made the crucial breakthrough in a tense 13th game, breaking Jaziri’s serve to go 7-6 up and the Brit duly served the match out, with the Tunisian netting a forehand on match point.
Smith can now look ahead to July’s tie against Luxembourg safe in the knowledge that it is likely that Andy Murray, who he used to coach during the World No.5’s teenage years, will return in his country’s colours for the first time since September 2009.
“This weekend’s match was not right for his schedule at this point,” said Smith. “He is off to America to prepare for what is a very important month for him, but the good thing is that he is keen to play the next tie which is something we will welcome. Everyone is looking forward to Andy coming back into the team.”