September 20, 2015

The Way, Way Back

Over the last couple years we've seen some new names and faces make some big statements at Davis Cup. Whether they ushered in a new era of domination on the world stage or finally rewarded efforts that had so far only been successful on the singles circuit, the countries that hoisted the trophies at the end of the year were breaking new ground.

But this year's final will turn back the clock more than a bit and bring back two teams who've long been missing from this battle. In fact, you have to rewind all the way to 1904 to find a championship contested by the two nations who'll be out for long-awaited glory this year.

Great Britain, in fact, despite deep talent over the years, last reached the Davis Cup final in 1978. And after years of being relegated to the World Group playoffs, the one-time world power finally made it back to the big leagues just last year. They were up against a tough Australian team, though, which might have been missing a recently verboten Nick Kyrgios, but still boasted young, albeit brash, talent from Bernard Tomic and Thanasi Kokkinakis -- so the Brits knew they had to bring their A-game. Andy Murray got off to a good start, easily handling Kokkinakis in the first rubber, but the lead was erased when Tomic felled Daniel Evans in four sets. On Day Two though, Murray teamed up with his brother Jamie and in a marathon doubles match against veteran Lleyton Hewitt and 2014 standout Sam Groth came back from dropping the fourth set tiebreak to claim the win and a 2-1 lead. The world #3, clearly over his surprise dismissal at the U.S. Open earlier in the month, went on to score another decisive win over Tomic on Sunday, clinching the tie for his country and, more importantly, their first trip to a Davis Cup championship in almost four decades.

There they'll face a team whose had an even longer drought at these events. Belgium's won just six ties at the World Group level and their only trip to the final came those hundred-plus years ago when they faced off against what were known as the British Isles at the time. But led by last year's comeback kid David Goffin, this year they've taken out the defending champion Swiss in their first round and then blanked the Canadians back in July. In this weekend's tie against Argentina, Goffin again put his team ahead with a tight win in the first rubber, but saw his team fall behind as Steve Darcis lost both his singles and Saturday's doubles rubber to Leonardo Mayer & Co. He kept Belgium alive though on Sunday, dropping just a handful of games to Diego Schwartzman, making Darcis' deciding match against Federico Delbonis that much more important. But this time Darcis stood up to the challenge -- after dropping the second set and failing to serve out the match in the fourth, he rolled through a tiebreak to pull off the win and give his teammates a chance they haven't had in a long, long time.

Of course the Brits won that championship a century ago by a score of 5-0, but something tells me this time around things could be a little closer. After all both teams have some real talent on their side and, perhaps, even a couple vulnerabilities. And with a chance neither has seen in several lifetimes, you can bet both will bring their very best to this year's final, and perhaps set a brand new stage for what's to come

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