By Martyn Herman
BRITAIN will attempt to win the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years this weekend when they take on Belgium in Ghent, although if they do succeed the Scottish town of Dunblane could argue its name should be enscribed on the trophy.
World number two Andy Murray and his brother Jamie, who grew up in Dunblane, have propelled Britain through the draw, with Andy churning out vital singles wins and teaming up with his elder sibling in the doubles.
That is likely to be the scenario again at the Flanders Expo, beginning today, where despite 13,000 home fans trying to cheer Belgium to their first ever Davis Cup, Britain will start favourites.
Twice grand slam champion Andy Murray is the class act of the final – a repeat of the 1904 match when the British Isles won 5-0 with brothers Laurence and Reggie Doherty starring.
Murray’s commitment to the cause this year has been immense.
The 2013 Wimbledon champion is undefeated, winning two singles against the United States in Glasgow in March.
Against France in the quarter-finals at Queen’s Club, the Murrays joined forces to win the doubles with Andy winning both his singles in a 3-1 victory – the second against Gilles Simon when he was down on both knees with fatigue.
Then came the semi-final against Australia, again in Glasgow, when the 28-year-old crushed Bernard Tomic, having won a gripping doubles five-setter with Jamie the previous day, to send Britain into the final for the first time since 1978.
He flew into Belgium on Monday – a country on high alert after the Paris attacks – having lost two of his three matches at the ATP World Tour Finals last week.
How he adapts to the quick switch to indoor clay will be crucial for Britain captain Leon Smith.
“The reality is that if Andy gets injured or ill, then it would be a very difficult match to win,” Mark Cox, who played for Britain in the 1978 final, told Reuters.
“Leon has done well to bond the team and get some performances from James Ward, well beyond what realistically would be expected.
“But the whole run to the final has relied on Andy’s performances and it has been great to see Jamie rising to the challenge and becoming a force in doubles.”
Roger Federer, who won the trophy for the first time last year for Switzerland, believes Murray will decide the tie.
“Britain are the favourites, in my opinion, because they have Andy in the team,” he said.
Federer, however, believes Belgium should not be dismissed, especially with world number 16 David Goffin in their ranks.
“Belgium are at home. I really like Goffin, a great player. Good attitude. I feel like he’s the kind of guy that can handle pressure,” he said.
Unheralded Kyle Edmund will make his Davis Cup debut for Britain when he faces Goffin in the opening rubber on Friday.
The 20-year-old, ranked just 100th in the world, will join an elite group of players – including John McEnroe and Pete Sampras – to make their debuts in a final.
Andy Murray will face off against Ruben Bemelmans in the second rubber of the best-of-five contest, before teaming up with Jamie to face Steve Darcis and Kimmer Coppelmans in doubles on the Belgian clay on Saturday.