Great Britain’s Davis Cup team arrived in Innsbruck filled with lofty hopes about their prospects in the competition and during their time there they registered two solid wins, but their tournament ended on Tuesday evening with a bitter 2-1 defeat to Germany as they were unable to take advantage of the countless opportunities they generated.
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 as he defeated Peter Gojowczyk 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 resolute Jan-Lennard Struff.
The spot in the semi-final came down to a decisive doubles rubber played between four top 20 players, but Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski were unable to convert four set points in the opening tie-break before squandering a 5-0 lead in the second set tie-break as they lost 7-6(10), 7-6(5) to Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz.
“We have had some good days, but it’s a tough one to swallow obviously,” said the GB captain Leon Smith. “I can’t fault any of the guys’ efforts or the team bench. Everyone gave their best effort. Let’s be honest, the sets could have gone either way on it, and it could have been a different outcome. But it wasn’t to be today.”
After Evans maturely handled Gojowczyk, Norrie soon became embroiled in a tight tussle against the 51-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff. Norrie served for the set at 6-5 and held double set point in the tie-break, but Struff, armed with his enormous serve and forehand, caught fire at the end of the tie-break and took it himself.
Norrie responded with the intensity and fight that has defined his breakthrough year, securing the second set, but it was not enough. After he failed to take advantage of a tight opening deuce game, Struff stepped inside the baseline and attacked relentlessly as Norrie faded in his 81st match of the year.
The four doubles specialists took centre stage and two manic tie-breaks followed. Momentum dramatically shifted back between the teams in the opening set tie-break, which included Krawietz drawing blood after diving onto the hard court and teammates from both sides screaming into the empty stadium. After both pairs generated four set points each in the set, the Germans finished strongly.
After nearly two hours, only one break point was generated on Skupski’s serve. But the Brits breezed into the tie-break and established a 5-0 lead as they seemed to be heading for a third set. With their backs to the wall, Krawietz and Puetz responded by playing out of their skins in a sequence of seven straight points, including three destructive winning returns in succession, to crown a remarkable comeback.
Afterwards, Norrie, Salisbury, Skupski and Smith sat with heads bowed as they explained their frustration after the loss: “We’re 5-0 up, we should win the tie-break, simple as that,” said Salisbury. “I had two points on serve. Played two bad points. We lost seven points in a row. There is no team in the world that we should play the way we do that. We tried our best.”
He continued: “Obviously we are gutted how it turned out, but also just very disappointed at the level, especially myself. It was just not good throughout the match. We fought hard, but it just wasn’t good enough.”
Great Britain had defeated Germany in the 2019 quarter-final, the last edition of the event, and they had arrived in Austria with an even stronger team. They were the favourites and although they were frustrated by their level, they generated a sufficient amount of chances to win. They were unable to take them.
Having suffered a tough loss at the end of a tremendous breakout season, Norrie expressed frustration at his level but he opted to end on a positive note: “It’s a tricky way to end the season, especially on a match like this,” he said. “But we all definitely enjoyed it.
“We’re all gutted, but I think for the future, it’s going to be good to experience this and definitely going to make me and everyone else want it even more to feel like this. I’m going to remember this.”