In expressing confidence that Andy Murray will play in the defending champions’ quarter-final match Great Britain captain Leon Smith yesterday suggested that his Serbian counterpart may already have been told that world number one Novak Djokovic is not going to lead his team.
The Glaswegian, who was back at his former clubs Giffnock and Clarkston yesterday as part of the Davis Cup tour that is aiming to build on last year’s Murray brothers-inspired success, admitted it would be a missed opportunity if the much anticipated meeting of the world’s number one and two ranked singles players does not take place.
Andy Murray has already said that the timing of the match and the Serbians' choice of a clay court just days after the grass court season finishes with the Wimbledon final and almost immediately before the Olympics take place on hard courts, the same surface as the ensuing US Open, has placed a doubt over his participation.
However Smith indicated that there is a possibility that the home team management’s hand may have been forced.
“Who knows?” he mused.
“I’ve been in situations before as well where they might have already had a ‘phone call suggesting that someone’s not likely to play and therefore you go ‘Well. Let’s go with clay. We have to do something to win the match.’ It’s everyone in our (British) team’s most alien surface so I can totally understand why.”
As to the younger Murray brother’s situation Smith knows there is little point in wasting energy on anything other than trying to cover contingencies and he is philosophical, albeit he believes he has reason for optimism.
“I’ll paraphrase Andy in this in that it’s unfortunate, but I’m very hopeful Andy’ll play,” he said.
“His commitment has been second to none in Davis Cup and playing in the Japan tie was immense.
“There’s just not a lot of time, but as Andy has indicated if he’s fit, feeling healthy then he can play and if he’s not I’ll have to just tackle that. I’ve been in this situation before. There’s no point in over-thinking, it’s better just to wait, focus on what’s important now which is winning matches at the Slams, at the Masters Series event and then what will be will be.”
He believes, too, that even with Aljaz Bedene, the Slovenian-born British number two, now having been told he can never represent his adopted country, Murray’s absence would not present an insurmountable obstacle.
“You have to put Novak into the equation as well,” said Smith.
“So we have to see if Andy plays, if Novak plays. Does Novak play and Andy doesn’t play. It throws up so many permutations. If Andy and Novak are both missing then it’s game on for both nations.
As a court surface there’s no doubt that the Serbs would favour clay. It’s normal, that’s what they’ve been brought up on it. The traditional club courts would be clay, whereas for our players that wouldn’t be the case.
“That said with Kyle Edmond, as we saw in the final in Ghent, it’s his best surface and that gives us a good opportunity and with Dan Evans now breaking into the top 100 we’ve got some momentum going, Jamie in doubles, Dom (Inglot) in doubles, so it would be a close tie if both number ones aren’t present.”
However at a time when the Davis Cup is looking to build its credibility as an international team event it is clear that the world’s two best players will be urged to take part.
“If they don’t play it’s difficult for the competition because the ITF (International Tennis Federation) want the best players in the world playing and what an occasion it would be having Andy Murray against Novak Djokovic in quarter-final Davis Cup tie,” said Smith.
“It would be quite an incredible sporting occasion never mind tennis and for that not to happen because of timing, scheduling and surface would be a difficult one.
“The whole competition does rest on getting the best players to play, though and the ITF’s very forward thinking new President in David Haggerty has already taken a lot of the captains aside and had conversations about what we can potentially do. They’ve got some ideas around it which is fresh thinking and I think we’re probably at that point.”