London: Is American tennis really in decline? Andy Murray and company will discover the truth of this oft-stated axiom when they travel to the United States in January for an intriguing Davis Cup tie.
Wednesday’s draw in London could perhaps have thrown up even tougher opposition for Leon Smith’s men, who scored a comfortable 4-1 win over Croatia last weekend to return to the world group for the first time since 2008.
None of the promoted teams would have wanted to face Spain or Serbia, for example. But while the US only come in at No 6 in the Davis Cup standings, they make a particularly awkward match-up against Great Britain because they have the best doubles pairing in the world.
This is an area where Smith would normally be confident of claiming a point, but Bob and Mike Bryan, the gifted twins from California, fell just two matches short of a calendar grand slam this year. “We’ll go into the tie with a lot of confidence and look forward to it,” said Smith, the British Davis Cup captain, who attended yesterday’s ceremonial affair. “It’s an exciting tie with fans remembering the great drama when the nations last met.”
That last meeting took place in Birmingham in 1999, and produced Britain’s most exciting Davis Cup tie in decades. Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski pushed their more fancied opponents to the wire before Jim Courier — then moving towards the end of a fine career — edged past Rusedski 8-6 in the deciding set of the deciding rubber.
This time, Andy Murray has promised to make himself available — although the journey from Melbourne will give him limited time to recover from jet-lag if he reaches the final of the Australian Open for the fourth time in five years.
That match is due to be played on January 26, while the Davis Cup tie begins on January 31. Murray’s support act will probably be Dan Evans — who, despite his recent improvement, is still the lowest-ranked singles player among the current world group line-ups.
Their opponents will most likely be John Isner (No 15) and Sam Querrey (No 31), who both epitomise the classic American style by unloading huge serves and forehands.
Murray himself made a pointed intervention in the post-draw debate on Twitter. When a BBC correspondent suggested the third point would be the hardest to come by (Davis Cup ties are fought out over the best of five rubbers), he bit back: “Do we go into the tie with a two zero head start? Or are you just assuming beating a 6ft 10 guy with a rocket serve is a given?”
Isner, the 6ft 10in guy in question, has a decent Davis Cup record, having beaten both Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the competition last year. Both those matches were played on clay, so it is not inconceivable that the Americans could opt to play on what is the least favourable surface for both Evans and Murray.
It is more likely, though, that they will go for a hard court, as they have done for their last seven home ties. Meanwhile, there were wins for both the British women still participating in the Guangzhou Open, the tournament held in China’s third-largest city. Although Heather Watson went out on Tuesday, Laura Robson — who was runner-up at this event last year — beat wild card Saisai Zheng in straight sets to move into the quarter-finals, while Johanna Konta recorded one of the best wins of her career in thumping world No 38 Shuai Peng 6-1, 6-3.