The abject silence of the sporting competitions held behind closed doors during Austria’s return to lockdown is not the perfect atmosphere for any Davis Cup game, but in their first appearance at the 2021 Davis Cup Finals , Britain has created its own atmosphere and has conducted its affairs calmly. As their singles superiority on paper translated into reality, they clinched an essential 2-1 victory over France in Innsbruck to clinch their first win in Group F.
In the first match between the two second-ranked players, Dan Evans overcame difficult resistance from Adrian Mannarino, world No.71, to win 7-5, 6-4. Britain’s No.1 Cameron Norrie followed soon after, securing the win by saving two set points in a prolonged and gasping tie-break before edging out Arthur Rinderknech 6-2, 7-6 (8).
In doubles, Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski lost 6-1, 6-4 to Nicolas Mahut and Rinderknech.
While France have historically had one of the strongest Davis Cup teams, reaching back-to-back Davis Cup finals in the previous format as recently as 2017 and 2018, they arrived in Austria with an exhausted squad led by Rinderknech, the rapidly improving team. No. 58 worldwide and No. 4 in France.
Although Mannarino has had a rough season, he was a nuisance to Evans early on with his impeccable hand-eye coordination and soft, compact backhand. However, Evans hit his more powerful forehand well and his backhand slice robbed Mannarino of the pace he loves to feed off.
Despite enough pressure, Evans sealed the first set on his second attempt, then took a vital break at 4-4 in the second set before wrapping up the win.
“It’s not easy to play first,” said Evans. “I’ve been thinking about the game all week and it’s hard to go out and play on the pitch and try to stay calm. I was very nervous before. It was great to play for my country, to come out and score a point on the board. There are only a few best No 1’s in the world right now that the guy [Norrie] come here so I wanted to set it up for him there.
Having spent most of his career away from the limelight, this tournament marks an interesting milestone for Norrie as he adjusts to his new status within the sport. Norrie was not selected for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals squad despite being one of the top 100 players and he has not been to the event since 2018.
Now, as Evans pointed out, he’s ranked No.12 and the team’s best singles player. His first assignment was the great and mighty Rinderknech who gained 120 places this year.
Norrie quickly came out on top in her usual fashion, making plenty of returns, removing her opponent’s mistakes with her consistency and depth while also exposing Rinderknech’s movement by dictating with his forehand when the opportunity presented itself.
But the Frenchman grew in the game and as he began to hold on with authority he reached the tiebreaker and established a 4-1 lead. After firing back, Norrie dramatically recovered from dark positions to save Rinderknech’s two setpoints.
At 6-7 he was completely vulnerable at the net, but he correctly anticipated Rinderknech’s cross shot and hit his forehand volley across the open court. On Rinderknech’s serve at 7-8, he pulled off a nice winning shot with the angled backhand from the back of the baseline. Soon after, he claimed his first Davis Cup victory in three years.
Norrie spoke of the high morale within the squad which resulted in the noise they made for each other on the pitch instead of the spectators: “We played a little cornhole, some darts. ”Said Norrie.
“We watched the other games together, we went to dinner. Some good discussions. It’s just nice to be a part of the squad, especially since we’re going to be playing all year, we’re with our own smaller teams. It’s nice to meet again at the end of the year and to share this moment.
Great Britain will face the Czech Republic on Sunday morning. With three nations in each group, Great Britain would win their Group C and confirm their place in the quarterfinals with another victory.