With Great Britain set to take on Serbia in the Davis Cup quarter-final next Thursday, team members both past and present expect that there will be a massive emphasis on the decisive doubles rubber. With Dan Evans forced to pull out after just weeks after he and Neal Skupski proved to be a winning pair, he has been replaced by former doubles No 1 Joe Salisbury. Express Sport exclusively spoke to three of GB’s top doubles players who all agreed that it is pivotal to have a strong duo as the squad faces a difficult singles rubber with Novak Djokovic on Serbia’s team.
When they meet on November 23, Britain and Serbia will contest two singles rubbers and, if they are split at one apiece, a decisive doubles clash. With Djokovic in the opposing team, one of GB’s squad members is all but guaranteed to face the 24-time Grand Slam champion in the second of the two singles matches.
Djokovic himself had previously singled out Dan Evans as a threat to Serbia’s chances before the world No 38 was forced to pull out after picking up a calf injury. He has since been replaced by Salisbury, who will likely partner Skupski if the tie comes down to the final doubles rubber. Salisbury, Skupski and former Davis Cup champion Jamie Murray exclusively spoke to Express Sport about the upcoming tie before Evans’ replacement was confirmed – with everyone in agreement that doubles could be crucial to getting the win.
“Obviously really important, I mean even more important than it used to be when you had four singles and a doubles,” new team member Salisbury said of doubles’ place in the overall Davis Cup format. “Now it’s only two singles, one doubles and often it comes down to the doubles to decide it so obviously it’s really important.”
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Looking ahead to Britain’s task of beating Serbia, the former world No 1 explained: “It’s very tough. I mean, they’re probably the favourites for the Davis Cup obviously having Djokovic but then they’ve got a lot of other very strong players as well. I’m not sure how many but they’ve got a few other guys maybe top 50 so it’s really tough and we’re definitely up against it and they’re the favourites but you never know what can happen.”
Asked whether Djokovic’s presence could put extra pressure on the other singles match and the doubles rubber, the four-time men’s doubles Major winner added: “Yeah, it would do. You got to think, I mean you never know what’s going to happen but he [Djokovic] would be the huge favourite whoever he plays against so all the matches are super important but you’ve got to think that you probably have to win the other two.”
Neal Skupski – who, along with Evans, won the doubles match that booked Britain’s spot in the Final 8 – is hoping that a good pairing can get the job done if the first two singles matches are split. “Hopefully we can get that first point on the board and then whoever goes out against Novak can have a bit of a swing and play free and see what happens,” the world No 3 said.
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“Obviously Novak, he’s something else. He’s obviously one of the best of all time. But it’s going to be a very difficult tie, Serbia are great. We’ll be looking to try and get it to 1-1. It would be great to have it 2-0 but if it is 1-1, we’ll hopefully put a good doubles team out to try and perform again and get us through.”
As a two-time men’s doubles Grand Slam champion and a key part of Britain’s winning Davis Cup team in 2015, Jamie Murray might also have been on Smith’s radar before the captain picked Salisbury. However, the Scot admitted that it has been a “long year” when he previously discussed the chances of replacing Evans.
Another former doubles No 1, the elder Murray brother backed the quality of the doubles players that Britain boast and thinks that the team have a good chance in all three matches against Serbia. “Well I think they’ve got a really solid team. They’ve got three or four singles players that can all compete against anyone really,” the 37-year-old explained.
“All different styles of players as well which I think helps. I think Neal and Joe have proved themselves to be some of the best doubles players in the world the last two or three years and can beat anyone.
“The good thing about the team is they have a chance to win all three of the matches regardless of who they play and I think it’s a big advantage these days in the Davis Cup to have a really strong doubles team and I think they’ve got that regardless of who plays.”
It remains to be seen what Leon Smith does with his team when the day comes. Cameron Norrie, Andy Murray and Jack Draper will be the likely candidates for the two singles matches. As for the doubles team, Skupski pointed out that there are no guarantees that he will play. “If Joe comes in, he’s played with Andy in the past,” he pointed out. “So we’ve got a lot of talent that can play in the doubles. It just depends on what’s best for the team and what Leon thinks.”
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