THE bells in the beautiful cathedral city of Ghent rang out yesterday for the first day of advent. They should now peel in a cathedral in Dunblane to mark an occasion that comes around considerably less often than once a year.
Great Britain are Davis Cup champions for the first time since 1936. And a town in Perthshire has most reason to rejoice. All Britain’s points in a 3-1 win were sourced there.
It takes me back to when they started at the tennis club in Dunblane, when they were only so littleJudy Murray
The threat posed by David Goffin eventually melted away like Belgian chocolate as Andy Murray’s career reached another high in the low countries. But Jamie also put his shoulder to the wheel on Saturday.
It is fair to assume that when Bunny Austin, Fred Perry and team-mates collected the trophy nearly 80 years ago, there was not quite the cacophony that greeted Andy and Jamie and friends yesterday.
Indoor fireworks shot up towards the roof of the cavernous Flanders Expo hall where history was made after Andy did what was required by beating Goffin in straight sets. Unlike in 1936, when Great Britain beat Australia 3-2, there was no need for a fifth rubber. James Ward was not required. In fact, no-one whose name is not Murray was required.
Eleven of the 12 Davis Cup points Britain have won this year were won by Andy or a combination of him and his brother, Jamie. No wonder their mother, Judy, swished through the crowds at the end towards the ‘British bar’ in the arena, like the First Lady of Tennis she is.
Well-wishers cheered her, some hugged her. One kilted pensioner seemed almost ready to propose marriage. The Scotsman simply asked: how does it feel to have produced two sons who took on the world, and won?
“Watching them play Olympics together and playing Davis Cup is always very special,” she said. “And the level of performance they both play at now in their respective disciplines of tennis is amazing to see.
“When I see them together it takes me back to when they started at the tennis club in Dunblane, when they were only so little. And just playing for fun.
“But then they got quite good, and it became a big adventure, trying to get to the next stage and the next stage and the next stage. And now here they are at the very top of the game, winning the Davis Cup for Great Britain.”
Jamie claimed the winning game on Saturday in their doubles rubber but by winning both his singles matches, and indeed every Davis Cup singles match he has played this year, the team were reliant on Andy. Bar for a stumble near the start of the third set, when he was broken before immediately breaking back, Andy Murray just looked too powerful for Goffin.
The shot that clinched victory, one celebrated from Land’s End to John O’Groats, was a stunning back-hand lob over Goffin. There were other moments to treasure too. An incredible passing shot to clinch a 5-2 lead in the first set, racing down a drop shot in the second set.
There were flashes of anger as well. Jamie was standing at the far end of the court, having left courtside for some reason. His furious brother waved him back to his seat – Jamie’s Persil white tracksuit top was distracting him. But such outbursts were rare. Andy remained in control.
It was a partisan crowd – but as someone caustically noted, no more so than when he plays Roger Federer at Wimbledon.
Murray dealt with Goffin’s challenge comfortably enough in the end but he was right to sound out warning after warning on the eve of the clash. Goffin was inspired at times and proved a gallant loser. The British were magnanimous victors. Leon Smith, the captain, made a point of thanking both sets of fans at the end, as did Andy.
At first the crowd struggled to comprehend what was expected of them. Staying silent as the players served seemed beyond them. The atmosphere verged on rowdy. Whistles sounded, while senseless shouting at inopportune times almost challenged the umpire to intervene. Eventually he had to demand, in exasperated fashion: “One more time, silence please”.
But if the Belgians were most at fault, it was often self-defeating. Andy Murray feeds off these kinds of vibes. His warrior spirit surges to the fore just as the ghosts of Britain’s tennis past rose up to meet with these current heroes.
Because Andy did not do it on his own, something he was eager to remind people. He even gave the team stringer a mention in his post-victory speech.
There was a huge swelling roar for Goffin at the start of the eighth game in the second set, with the Belgian leading 4-3. The crowd seemed to sense this was his chance, perhaps even his final opportunity to stamp some authority on the proceedings. Murray simply stared ahead. He shook the dust from the tread of his trainers before swiftly winning his service game to love. What a feat of clay.
This was Murray’s 98th match of the year. Of those 61 matches where he won the first set, he has never lost. Great Britain are now ranked as the top Davis Cup tennis nation in the world. Officially. For the first ever time.
But there is a house on a street in Dunblane that now deserves to have a blue heritage plaque pinned to its front door: an epic Davis Cup victory was born here.