Andy Murray leads rejuvenated Britain in Davis Cup World Group play-off in Croatia
Last Updated: 13/09/13 10:51am
Andy Murray: Back to lead Great Britain in Davis Cup clash with Croatia
Spearheaded by Andy Murray, Great Britain's Davis Cup team will attempt to secure their place back in the World Group as they take on Croatia this Friday.
Making his first appearance in the competition for two years, Murray will look to put the relative disappointment of last week's quarter-final exit at the US Open behind him as he leads a team which also comprises Dan Evans, James Ward and Colin Fleming.
While not the result he would have hoped for, the defending champion's premature exit in New York did ensure a few extra days of rest ahead of this week's contest on the clay in Umag.
Although the red dirt is by no means the preferred surface of Murray and his cohorts, the team and British tennis as a whole heads into the showdown on a high after a memorable year.
Murray's historic victory at Wimbledon in July has been complimented by the encouraging narrative of Evans' emergence in recent weeks, capped by a hugely-impressive run to the third round at Flushing Meadows.
Wins over the seeded Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic underlined the undoubted potential and ability of the 23-year-old from Birmingham who, for a long time, seemed destined for a career of underachievement.
Having rededicated himself to training and called time on what he now admits were excessive social activities, Evans finds himself at 149 in the latest world rankings and heading firmly on an upward curve.
A further boost to the British cause is the absence of Croatia's top-ranked player, Marin Cilic, who has been off the Tour since Wimbledon, amid reports of a failed drugs test, to leave the hosts' options looking decidedly threadbare.
Limited options for Croatia
With Ivo Karlovic refusing to go back on his decision to retire from Davis Cup service last year, Croatia will be relying heavily on 35th-ranked Ivan Dodig who is supported by Antonio Veic, yet to win a tour-level match all season, and the inexperienced duo of 20-year-old Mate Pavic and Britain-based 16-year-old Borna Coric.
But despite their paucity of options, Great Britain captain Leon Smith is refusing to take the Croats lightly and has said of the draw: "We are delighted to be sending our strongest team to Umag in what will be a very tough tie.
"Croatia are former winners of the Davis Cup and currently ranked number 11 in the world but, as we proved in Coventry back in April (in beating Russia 3-2), we can upset the odds."
Given Smith - who has lost just won of his six ties at the helm - has selected only the one doubles specialist in Fleming, it seems fair to assume Murray will reprise his partnership with his fellow Scot and feature in three of the five matches.
The duo recently reached the finals of the doubles event at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, although Smith has not yet totally ruled out calling up last year's surprise Wimbledon champion Jonny Marray if necessary.
It is six years since Britain last won a World Group play-off, which coincidentally was also against Croatia in Tim Henman's final match for his country.
However, they would go on to be relegated from the 16-team elite group a year later after defeat to Argentina and, by 2010, had suffered the ignominy of defeat by Lithuania - an embarrassing loss which signalled the end of John Lloyd's reign as captain.
But those days now look firmly behind them and it will be with a sense of optimism that they head into this week's clash which offers the chance to establish themselves as World Group contenders.