Leon Smith began this year’s Davis Cup group stages with a positive dilemma. With four quality singles players to choose from, the Great Britain Davis Cup captain was charged with deciding which combination stood the best chance of delivering GB their first win after the bitter week in Glasgow last year.
In the end his decision to prioritise form over rankings yielded a brilliant win as Great Britain began their campaign by defeating Australia 2-1.
In the opening rubber between the second players, Jack Draper finished his long-awaited Davis Cup debut with an excellent comeback win, defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-6(4). Dan Evans followed shortly after and, thrust forward as Britain’s No 1 player, he played up to the occasion produced the best Davis Cup win of his 14 years of competing for Great Britain, outclassing the No 12 Alex de Minaur 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to clinch the victory.
“I was incredibly nervous walking out,” Evans said. “Practising here this week, it was a lot bigger than I first expected and very much closer to the court than [where] we played before. It was amazing, basically.”
Smith’s team selection was bold but also logical. Evans, the British No 2 by ranking, recently won the biggest title of his career at the ATP 500 event in Washington and Draper, the British No 4, outperformed each of his more experienced teammates last week at the US Open by reaching the fourth round for the first time in his career. Cameron Norrie and Andy Murray supported their teammates from the crowd.
Having been edged out by Kokkinakis in the opening set despite being set point up, Draper began the second set determined to force himself more on to the front foot. He broke Kokkinakis’s serve in the opening game and breezed through the set.
With his superior returning and movement in the third set, Draper put constant pressure on Kokkinakis’s service game. Down 4-4, though, he played a tight service game and lost his serve, offering Kokkinakis the chance to serve for the match. Under immense pressure, Draper landed returns, defended well and forced enough errors out of a nervous Kokkinakis to retrieve the break. After then falling 4-2 down in the third‑set tiebreak, Draper reeled off the final five points in a memorable win.
Afterwards, Draper said he had been informed by Smith of his nomination a couple of days earlier. “He said he wanted me to be out there and that he believed in me,” he said.
“Really, from there, we didn’t really talk too much about it. I trained well. I only started thinking about it probably an hour before I played, to which the nerves started coming in. I was definitely a bit nervous before I played but I knew that I’d played some tough matches in the US Open. I felt really good about my tennis.”
Armed with a 2-0 record against De Minaur, Evans’s game flowed from the first ball. While he dictated the exchanges with his forehand, incessantly looking for opportunities to move forward to the net, Evans’s slice caused countless problems on the low-bouncing court against De Minaur, a flat ballstriker who prefers to redirect his opponent’s pace than create it himself. After losing focus in the second set, Evans took control at the beginning of the third before holding on to close out an excellent win.
Asked if the first-round match made his job easier, Evans said: “He definitely made my job easier. It would be nice if he didn’t have to break serve to get back in the match because I thought we were going to be 1-0 down.” He laughed. “He came out and got us a win and I loved playing in front of [the crowd].”
In the doubles, Evans and Neal Skupski were beaten 7-6 (5), 6-4 by Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell.
While the GB team played in front of a brilliant home crowd of 9,290 spectators, on Tuesday Stan Wawrinka noted his disappointment after playing in front of just a few hundred spectators during Switzerland’s 3-0 defeat against France.
Wawrinka sarcastically thanked the former footballer Gerard Piqué, whose investment company Kosmos, was responsible for dismantling the old Davis Cup format. This year the ITF ended its partnership and pursued legal action against Kosmos. Great Britain will next face Switzerland on Friday.