November 30, 2015

Davis Cup Final -- 111 Years in the Making

Things sure have been tense in Belgium the last few weeks, and certainly on topics much more important than tennis. But while the world's eyes stay focused on what's happening in Brussels -- and what's happened so recently in Paris and, of course, in so many other places across the globe -- just a couple dozen miles away from the capital city in Ghent, this year's Davis Cup championship was contested, thankfully without incident. And in a rematch of the 1904 final we got a glimpse of just how hungry these two teams were to return to glory.

I've talked before about how long it's been since either the Belgians or the British got this far at Davis Cup, and it kind of makes sense. While they both have their stars -- two-time Grand Slam champ and world #2 Andy Murray and 2014 comeback kid David Goffin lead the packs -- their second place players are little farther down the rankings. Aljaz Bedene, who rose all the way to #45 this year, didn't play for the Brits in this tie, making sub-hundred Kyle Edmunnd the other singles player. And while Steve Darcis has certainly scored some big wins in the past, he's still ranked just within double digits. So to put together full teams that can get through top rate talent all year long can be a bit tough, and against all odds these guys did it.

And their big guns came out firing from the start -- Goffin, just off a career high at #16 in the world, has been a little quiet lately and was tested mightily from the start. But after dropping his first two sets to the huge underdog Edmund, he rallied in the back half, losing just three games to give Belgium an early lead. But Murray was quick to get momentum back on his side -- against largely unheralded Ruben Bemelmans, a workhorse on the Challengers' Tour, he took the first two sets easily before having to battle through the third. Ultimately though he claimed victory in straight sets and drew the Brits even going into Day Two.

In the doubles rubber Goffin paired with Darcis and Murray with his brother Jamie -- a decorated veteran in the paired discipline. The elder Murray -- a finalist at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon -- narrowly missed making the semis at the year-end championships in London, but may have made up for it here. After splitting the first two sets with the Belgians, the doubles specialist was able to take the lead, and powered his team through to the 2-1 advantage, always key in these events. And in Sunday's premier match-up, the younger sibling got right back on court against Goffin, hoping for a repeat of his Paris Masters 6-1, 6-0 drubbing of his opponent. Things weren't quite so easy this time around, but Murray nevertheless persevered, overcoming Goffin's only break of the match in the third set, and clinching the win in just under three hours, securing the Championship for him and his country.

It was the Brits' first Davis Cup trophy since before the second World War, and in an era that's been so dominated by upstart teams, it's interesting to see the reversion this year. Whether the victory is a sign that British imperialism is back in the world of tennis remains to be seen, of course -- but with the kind of firepower they brought all year long, there's no reason there isn't more to come.

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