After a narrow defeat to Bulgaria, Great Britain are up against elimination as they face Belgium, led by David Goffin and Steve Darcis, in a replay of the 2015 Davis Cup final at the ATP Cup
Great Britain vs Belgium is live from Sydney on Sunday at 5.30pm local/6.30am GMT
Lacking their star player whose ranking qualified them for this competition, Great Britain must try to find a way to reprise their Davis Cup final victory over Belgium from 2015 if they are to keep their hopes of reaching the knockout stages alive as the ATP Cup continues on Sunday.
Despite a singles win from Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans leading by a set and a break in singles and then Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury holding a match point in the decisive doubles, Great Britain found themselves unable to beat Bulgaria, a minnow team who are strangers to the top echelons of the Davis Cup and who can only really boast one player of any note.
That doesn’t bode well for their chances against Belgium, a consistent Davis Cup World Group side anchored by world no. 11 David Goffin and Steve Darcis, who often plays well above his ranking when it comes to representing his country. Belgium wiped the floor with Moldova in their opening tie, and a win over Great Britain would make their position at the top of Group C almost unassailable.
Great Britain: Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie, James Ward, Joe Salisbury, Jamie Murray, Tim Henman (captain)
Belgium: David Goffin, Steve Darcis (player/captain), Kimmer Coppejans, Joran Vliegen, Sander Gille
Rubber 1: Cameron Norrie (GBR) vs Steve Darcis (BEL), live from Sydney from 5.30pm local/6.30am GMT
Player-captain Steve Darcis could be a very challenging opponent for Cameron Norrie despite the difference in their rankings.
Norrie is currently ranked world no. 53, and hit his career-high ranking of world no. 41 last May after reaching his maiden ATP Tour final in Auckland this time last year and going on to reach the semifinals of Acapulco in February; he was also a semifinalist in Atlanta in August.
Darcis is currently ranked world no. 157, and at 35, is coming towards the end of his career. But although his two ATP Tour titles are far in the past, coming in 2007 and 2008 respectively, his career-high ranking of world no. 38 was only reached in 2017, and he made two Challenger Tour finals and an ATP Tour semifinal in 2019.
Darcis is perhaps best known for defeating Rafael Nadal in the first round of Wimbledon in 2013, but he’s also heavily associated with the Davis Cup in Belgium, compiling a 23-12 win-loss record in singles.
Both men got wins in their opening ties, but not before being pushed surprisingly hard by their much lower-ranked opponents. Norrie beat world no. 423 Dimitar Kuzmanov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 while Darcis struggled past world no. 818 Alexander Cosbinov of Moldova 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5. On paper, this should be Norrie’s match but Darcis is a dangerous, aggressive player and could make life difficult for Great Britain in this opening rubber.
Rubber 2: Dan Evans (GBR) vs David Goffin (BEL), to follow
Another first-time meeting takes place in the second rubber as Dan Evans tries to take down the world no. 11 David Goffin.
The anchor of the Belgian Davis Cup squad, Goffin cruised past Moldova’s top player Radu Albot in straight sets in the opening tie and looked very comfortable in doing so. With a 24-4 record in Davis Cup singles – not that the ATP Cup is the Davis Cup, but it does give you some idea of how a player typically performs for their country – and the highest ranking of any player in the tie by some margin, Belgium will feel very confident of their chances in this rubber, especially as Goffin ended 2019 on the verge of breaking back into the top 10 after reaching the Cincinnati Masters and Halle finals.
It was Andy Murray who memorably beat Goffin to seal victory in the Davis Cup final in 2015 – can Dan Evans rise to the challenge? Currently ranked world no. 42, Evans climbed exactly 150 ranking places in 2019, continuing the upwards momentum that began when he returned unranked from his cocaine suspension in April 2018, and he has beaten good players in the past: In fact, he has a 5-21 record vs top-20 players, with Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and John Isner among those he has beaten. He’s a talented player with a lot of variety, and a left-handed game which throws players off.
The concern for Evans is that he was up a set and a break against Grigor Dimitrov in the previous ATP Cup rubber he played, and lost – just as he lost to Alexander Bublik and Robin Haase during the Davis Cup Finals after taking the first set. Even if he got into a winning position against Goffin – and it’s not impossible to imagine, because Evans is a really good player and Goffin doesn’t have overwhelming weapons – it requires some stretch of the imagination to envision him being able to close it out.
Rubber 3: Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen (BEL) vs Jamie Murray/Joe Salisbury (GBR), to follow after suitable rest
This is the one rubber where it feels like Great Britain definitely have the edge. Yes, Murray and Salisbury did lose to Bulgaria in the decisive doubles in the opening tie, but the Bulgarians boasted a top singles player in Grigor Dimitrov, and it was a narrow defeat, with Murray and Salisbury holding match point. The two doubles specialists should be able to outclass Gille and Vliegen – the question is whether either Norrie or Evans can keep the tie alive long enough for that to matter.