Great Britain’s Davis Cup team arrived in Innsbruck, Austria filled with ample hope about their prospects after a great year for all their players involved, and during their visit they registered two solid wins, but on Tuesday evening they were unable to take a further step forward as they exited the competition with a bitter 2-1 defeat by Germany.
A turbulent day began with the high of Dan Evans bouncing back after a tough singles loss on Sunday to play a consistent, disciplined match in defeating Peter Gojowyczk 6-2, 6-1. In the singles rubber between the No 1s, Cameron Norrie was edged out 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2 by a spirited Jan-Lennard Struff.
The tie came down to a decisive doubles rubber played at the highest level with four top 20 players, but Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski squandered numerous chances including a 5-0 lead in the second set tiebreak as they lost 7-6 (10), 7-6 (5) to Kevin Krawietz and Tim Pütz.
The day began with a surprise, one hour before the start of play, when it was announced that Dominik Koepfer, the world No 54 and Germany’s second singles player, had been substituted out of the lineup after a poor loss on Sunday against Austria.
It was an unsuccessful call. As Gojowczyk, ranked 86th, started nervously and double-faulted four times in his first two service games, Evans focused on remaining solid and disciplined. “I worked hard and that was the story of the match, really,” he said.
“Working as hard as I could to get him to dig out the ball from low and make him take the ball down-the-line. Probably some of the best tennis I’ve played all year.”
As he departed the court, Evans joked that his best part of the day, sitting on the bench and cheering, was still to come. Following him on the court, Norrie soon became embroiled in a tight tussle against Struff, the No 51, whose enormous serve and forehand took him into the top 30 last year. Norrie served for the set at 6-5 and held double set point in the tiebreak but Struff nailed a backhand on his first set point to snatch the set.
Norrie responded as he has done so frequently this year, elongating rallies, returning ample enormous serves and imposing his intensity on the match. It earned him the second set and opportunities at the beginning of the decider. But Struff attacked relentlessly, pushing Norrie further behind the baseline. As Struff bulldozed forehands towards victory, Norrie faded in his 81st match of the year.
As the tie moved to the final rubber, the four doubles specialists expertly took care of their service games, with Skupski saving the only break point of the match, a set point, at 5-6. Then they converged in a manic tiebreak, with Krawietz drawing blood after diving onto the hard court, ample return lobs and teammates from both sides screaming in the empty stadium. Both pairs generated four set points each, but the Germans finished strongly.
An hour later, after 12 games and no further break points, the Brits breezed into the tiebreak and established a 5-0 lead as they seemed to be heading for a third set. Instead, Krawietz and Pütz responded with crushing returns, crowded the net and served faultlessly as they pieced together a remarkable comeback. While the Brits did not serve well enough, they were thoroughly outplayed at the close.
The defeat is particularly bitter since Great Britain had defeated Germany in the 2019 quarter-final, the last edition of the event, and had arrived this year with an even stronger team. They were the favourites and between Norrie’s tight three-set loss and countless opportunities in the doubles, they generated the requisite amount of chances that they were unable to take.
Germany, meanwhile, are represented by one of the best players in the world, Alexander Zverev, yet in his absence they continue to punch above their weight. After downing Novak Djokovic’s Serbia team, they have now reached their first Davis Cup semi-final since 2007. In the process, they have pulled off exactly what Great Britain had set out for – a trip to the Caja Mágica in Madrid for the final rounds with the belief that anything is possible.