Great Britain battle past Czech Republic to win place in Davis Cup quarter-finals

The depth of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team was tested on Sunday afternoon when they stood a set away from defeat against a fearless, young Czech Republic team punching far above its weight. However, under the burden of Davis Cup finals pressure, they found a way with a 2-1 win to finish top of their group and reach the quarter-finals.

After Dan Evans was brushed aside by the 21-year-old Tomas Machac, who secured a career-best 6-2, 7-5 victory, Cameron Norrie survived three turbulent sets to beat the 20-year-old Jiri Lehecka 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 and push the tie into a doubles rubber to decide the winner of their group.

In their first deciding Davis Cup rubber together, Joe Salisbury and
Neal Skupski produced a dominant doubles performance to steer Great Britain through with a 6-4, 6-2 win against Jiri Vesely and Machac.

“Damn good, real good,” the captain, Leon Smith, said of his team’s performance. “I’m really, really proud of them. Doesn’t matter who wins or loses rubbers, everyone is in it together, everyone is supporting at the end. I thought Machac, who played Evo in the first match, played out of his skin. He was great. Then Cam plays another young guy who played out of his skin.“

As Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych, the stars of a Czech Davis Cup team that won the event in 2012 and 2013, have spent their past few days entertaining the Royal Albert Hall’s crowds at the Champions Tennis event, this week in Innsbruck has underlined that capable successors are coming through.

Machac, the world No 143, had already defeated Richard Gasquet of France and against Evans he served extremely well, moved confidently to the net, and complemented his sweet backhand with flashes of showmanship, slam-dunking jumping forehand drive volley winners.

Despite showing fight, Evans was poor. His backhand slice was impotent in crosscourt exchanges against the Czech’s supreme two-hander and he sprayed forehand errors throughout. “It’s far from ideal,” Evans said afterwards.

Even in a less popular format and in front of no fans, lower-ranked players continue to elevate themselves in this unique competition. Lehecka has risen quickly up the rankings this year and against Norrie, he demonstrated the potential of his vast weaponry, taking the second set 6-2 in a blaze of forehand winners. However, Norrie played with discipline in the third set, cutting out unforced errors and imposing his intensity on Lehecka.

“It was obviously a big match, a must-win match for me, a must-win match for these boys here,” Norrie said. “I think it’s all very new for all of us, but we’ve all had great years. We all prepared as well as we could for this event. We were all ready for today’s challenge. All the preparation, all the hard work throughout the year paid off.”

As the contest came down to the deciding doubles rubber, Salisbury and Skupski, ranked 3 and 20 respectively, left their mark on the tournament as against Vesely and Machac. Salisbury snatched the first break at 4-4 with a typically assured backhand volley winner, and as they took control of the match, they soared.

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“We were confident we would come back stronger today,” said Salisbury, referring to their doubles loss in Saturday’s dead rubber against France. “Obviously going into it, knowing that we had to get the win, I think we kind of embraced that situation. I think it brought the best out of us.”

Great Britain will face the winner of Group F on Tuesday in Innsbruck, with Germany or Serbia their likely opponents. Germany face Austria on Saturday night and would clinch a spot in the quarter-finals with a win.


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