Great Britain and France face decisive doubles rubber for Davis Cup place

By Sports Desk September 17, 2023

Great Britain must win a deciding doubles rubber against France to keep alive their Davis Cup hopes for this season after Cameron Norrie was beaten by Ugo Humbert in Manchester.

Dan Evans fought back from a set and a break down to see off teenage debutant Arthur Fils 3-6 6-3 6-4 to give Britain the lead in front of a 13,000 sell-out crowd at the AO Arena, a single day record for the competition in this country.

An out-of-form Norrie also battled from behind to force a deciding set against Ugo Humbert but was unable to take it, the Frenchman winning 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-5.

It will therefore come down to the final match of the week to decide who joins Australia in qualifying for the final eight event in Malaga in November.

Team selection has been one of the most intriguing aspects of this week and here it was France springing a surprise by turning to 19-year-old Fils ahead of the experienced Adrian Mannarino, against whom Evans has a great record.

Smith opted for his two highest-ranked singles players, overlooking Jack Draper, who made his own impressive debut in beating Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis on Wednesday, and Andy Murray.

Fils is the highest-ranked teenager in the world at 44 and the most exciting of a crop of young French players.

It was immediately clear this was not a comfortable match-up for the 5ft 9in Evans, who struggles to impose his finesse-based game against power hitters, and he was in deep trouble when he was broken for a second successive game at the start of the second set.

Fils had been landing everything but he played a poor game serving at 3-2 to allow Evans back into the contest and from there a combination of the crowd, smart play by the British number two and his opponent’s inexperience turned things around.

Fils managed to stay in touch in the deciding set and Evans had to come through a tense final game, leaping and punching the air before expressing annoyance at his opponent for a very perfunctory handshake.

“He’s a super nice guy,” the 33-year-old said later. “I understand it now.

“Obviously I’m a bit fired up when I was at the net as well. It’s fine, he’s a little younger than me.

“I’ve been in that situation, you just want to get off the court.

“He played very good at the start. A very unorthodox forehand.

“It took me a little while to get into it. It’s been a pretty long week. Maybe I was a tiny bit flat at the start but I got the crowd involved.

“It’s an amazing crowd today. You really helped me get through when I was a set and a break down and not feeling exactly how I wanted to be playing.

“To be playing in front of such a big crowd for the country again, it’s everything to me.”

Evans’ victory gave Norrie the chance to clinch the tie, with Smith keeping faith with his number one despite his disappointing last few months and a loss to Stan Wawrinka on Friday.

Norrie saved a set point to force a tie-break in the first set against his fellow left-hander Humbert but blazed a backhand wide after fighting back from 2-6 to 5-6.

Norrie was not playing badly, though, and he secured the first break of the match to take a 2-0 lead in the second set.

Against Stan Wawrinka on Friday he had wilted from a similar position but here Norrie passed a real test by saving two break points at 4-2 and then another at 5-3 after three set points had come and gone.

It was the sort of gritty tennis that carried Norrie to the top 10 not so long ago, and he clinched his fourth chance to send the match to a deciding set.

Norrie seemed in the ascendancy for much of it but could not force a break and it was he who cracked serving to stay in the match, a double fault handing Humbert  a victory the Frenchman described as one of the best of his life.

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