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046 – FRIDAY 8TH JULY 2011
Murray returns to Scotland
This weekend’s Davis Cup tie between Great Britain and Luxembourg at the Braehead Arena is somewhat of a homecoming for Andy Murray.
It is over four years and seven months since he last made an appearance on court in Scotland, in the Aberdeen Cup exhibition event in 2006.
But this weekend he makes his return, and it’s not just him who will experience the patriotic Scottish support. Brother Jamie is also in the side, having been left out of the side for the last tie at Braehead against Ukraine in March 2009, and they are of course led by captain Leon Smith, who lives in Edinburgh.
With tickets completely sold out for the Friday, play is starting at the unusually late time of 4pm with Murray likely to be on court anytime from 6pm onwards, it is set to be quite a celebration of Scottish tennis.
And considering that this tie is part of the Euro/Africa Zone Group 2, this really is as good as it gets at this level, which is effectively the third tier of the Davis Cup or the equivalent of League One as some may call it. A win here sets up a chance to escape with a promotion play-off away to either Belarus or Hungary in September.
Murray returns to Scotland this year as a different person compared to the young prospect that he was back in 2006 in Aberdeen. A sure sign of his high stature in this country was the reaction he got upon his arrival at Brodie Park in Paisley on Wednesday to help celebrate the start of resurfacing work on the derelict courts.
Murray arrived with the rest of the British Davis Cup team, but it was the world No.4 that the hundreds of kids and parents wanted to see. He was swarmed by autograph hunters and others desperate for a glimpse, and was completely taken aback by the whole thing.
It was a moment which was quite inspiring, but the serious business starts today for the Scot who appears in the Davis Cup for the first time since the 3-2 defeat to Poland in September 2009.
Since then he has missed three ties, but stated yesterday that he will be playing on a more regular basis from now on, after he lost his enjoyment for the event when he played under the leadership of John Lloyd.
Andy said: “I think I will play more for sure. I enjoyed it when I played Davis Cup in the past, there were a few things that happened in the past that I didn’t enjoy towards the last few ties, but now I am looking forward to it again.
“This week has helped and I have enjoyed being around everyone. It makes you realise that it’s a great competition, the players really enjoy it and I am sure I will play more than I have done in the last few years.”
That will be music to the ears of Smith, the former coach of Murray during his teenage years, who will be hoping for a comfortable result against opponents in Luxembourg who are none too easy to find information about.
World No.81 Gilles Muller, aged 28, is their stand-out player, but Laurent Bram, Mike Vermeer and Tom Diederich remain unknown quantities. Their captain Jacques Radoux is a lawyer at the European Court of Justice and has to take holidays from his work to lead his side into battle.
27-year-old Bram, who takes on Murray in the second singles rubber today, does not currently have a world ranking, having played his last tour match in 2007. He currently only competes in national competitions in Luxembourg and by day, he coaches at a small tennis club in Gasperich, a suburb to the south of Luxembourg City.
It is safe to say that an encounter with Murray will be the biggest match of Bram’s life. Considering though that his best victory was against the then world No.778 Matteo Gotti, of Italy, in 2005, the match is a sure banker for the Brits, despite the struggle to scout such an opponent.
However, Britain will be wary of not underestimating the opposition. Shocks can often happen in the Davis Cup, and with Muller taking on James Ward in the first match today, it is realistic that Luxembourg, a country with only 55 clubs and 5000 registered players, could be one up after the opening rubber.
However the Brits are overwhelming favourites in the other four rubbers, with the Murray brothers scheduled to take on Bram and 18-year-old Mike Vermeer in the doubles tomorrow before the reverse singles on Sunday.
A victory will keep the home side moving along the path back to the World Group, where, according to Ward, all the top Neanderthals are, although his use of language was dictated by a lost forfeit in Pro Evo rather than any actual thoughts of heavily built human-like creatures roaming the top level of tennis’ premier international team competition.
World Group quarter-finals
There may be plenty of home interest in the British Davis cup tie this weekend, but in terms of international interest, the fact that the DavisCup.com and ATP websites are not featuring any articles or interviews from Braehead this weekend tells the story.
All the focus is on the World Group quarter-finals which get underway today, although the odd one out is Argentina vs Kazahstan in Buenos Aires as it kicked off yesterday so it does not clash with mayoral elections on Sunday. The home side already have a commanding 2-0 lead.
Tie of the weekend is undoubtedly in Andy Roddick’s hometown of Austin in Texas where the USA play host to Spain. Roddick had pushed hard to bring the tie to Austin and he will be a proud man when he lines up alongside Mardy Fish and the Bryan brothers, led by Jim Courier.
Albert Costa’s Spanish team is minus Rafael Nadal, who is currently holidaying in Ibiza, but still boasts a strong line-up with David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez, the Wimbledon quarter-finalist, as the two singles picks and Lopez and Fernando Verdasco as the doubles pairing.
Had it been on clay, the Spaniards would have been clear favourites, but the Americans, unsurprisingly, have chosen to host the tie on an indoor hard court which makes it difficult to predict which way the tie will go.
The doubles rubber will be a likely victory for the Bryans, but the four singles rubbers could go either way. It is a match which will make for interesting viewing on Sky Sports this weekend.
All credit to Novak Djokovic who, only five days after his Wimbledon victory, turns out for Serbia against Sweden in Halmstad this weekend. With the home side minus world No.5 Robin Soderling, it is a tie which the Serbs would still have been huge favourites for had the newly crowned world No.1 decided to take a break.
As it is, Djokovic will take on world No.355 Ervin Eleskovic today. The Davis Cup has had such a positive effect on Djokovic, who has only lost one match since winning the competition in Belgrade last December, and his passion for helping his country to retain the trophy is clear.
It is interesting to note the different paths of Serbia and Britain since they met in a Euro/Africa Zone Group One Second Round tie at Braehead in April 2006. Serbia, with three of the same team - Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic - who played in Scotland, have went on to win the competition.
Britain, as mentioned before, have plummeted to the third tier with only one member of that team, Andy Murray, remaining.
The other World Group quarter-final takes place in Stuttgart between Germany and France. The latter have a very strong team in Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra, and despite being the away side, they will be clear favourites against the Germans who include Florian Mayer and Philipp Kohlschreiber.