Great Britain’s bid to reach the Davis Cup Finals knockout stage started with a superb 2-1 victory over Australia as debutant Jack Draper and Dan Evans both won their singles matches.
In the first of a best-of-three-match tie, Draper won 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) against Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Evans beat Alex de Minaur, ranked 12th in the world, 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the second singles match on Wednesday.
Evans and Neal Skupski later lost 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 in the doubles.
While Britain had already won the tie, the doubles loss to Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell could still prove crucial later in the week when it comes down to clinching qualification.
Four nations – Britain, Australia, France and Switzerland – are playing in the group stage event held at Manchester’s AO Arena.
They all play each other once in a round-robin format, with the top two countries going through to the knockout stage – known as the ‘Final Eight’ – in Malaga in November.
Britain play Switzerland on Friday and face France in the final tie of the event on Sunday.
France are top of the group as it stands after winning all three matches in Tuesday’s opening tie against the Swiss.
Draper and Evans repay the faith
With a wealth of options at his disposal, British captain Leon Smith sprung somewhat of a surprise by picking Draper and Evans as his two singles players ahead of Cameron Norrie and Andy Murray.
Norrie, 28, remains the nation’s highest-ranked player but has been unable to match the consistently high levels that took him into the world’s top 10 last year.
Former world number one Murray, 36, has enjoyed a productive season in which he broke back into the world’s top 40 for the first time since having career-saving hip surgery in 2019.
However, he was left despondent after another early Grand Slam exit at the US Open and conceded in New York he did not “deserve” to play ahead of Draper.
Smith, too, decided that was the case as he picked current form over previous pedigree.
The move paid off as Draper and Evans ensured a British victory against an Australian side who finished as runners-up in the competition last year.
“I’m playing for my country and had to put everything out on the line – usually I’m playing for myself,” said Draper, who reached a career-high ranking of 38th in January before his season was decimated by injury.
“There is nothing better. It was a real battle, it is amazing to play my first Davis Cup tie in the UK and I’m grateful to be here.
“I’m so happy Leon trusted me and put me out here.”
Hosts make a flying start in Manchester
Since the revamp of the historic Davis Cup in 2019 which saw the abolition of home-and-away ties, there has been criticism of the format and the atmospheres created as a result.
But Britain, as one of the four hosts in the knockout stage, had the benefit of playing in front of home fans and used the support of a partisan 9,500 crowd to great effect.
Both Draper and Evans thrived on the energy provided as Manchester hosted a tie for the first time since 1994.
Draper has long been seen as the future of the British men’s game, demonstrating why at the US Open when he reached the fourth round despite having little preparation because of a shoulder injury that kept him out for three months.
He was pitched straight into the team against 74th-ranked Kokkinakis, who edged a tight opening set where serve dominated.
But Draper grew into the contest, continuing to serve well and causing more problems with his improved returning.
Two breaks for the Briton took the match into a decider, where his serve came under no pressure until Kokkinakis broke for 5-4.
However, the Australian could not hold his nerve as he served for the match. It enabled Draper to level before he fought back again from 4-2 down in the tie-break to settle a tense encounter.
“I let my nerves get to me,” said Kokkinakis. “He didn’t do anything crazy on those points, serving out I was a little overanxious and a bit passive.
“Credit to him, he made me play – but I didn’t win it.”
Evans played his way into the team after showing he had regained his confidence on the North American hard-court swing.
After a tough season where he had struggled for victories, the 33-year-old won the best title of his career in Washington and reached the US Open third round.
There, he pushed Spanish defending champion Carlos Alcaraz in an entertaining contest before falling in four sets.
A fast start against De Minaur was another sign Evans was back nearer his best, as was the way he closed out victory to record his best result by ranking in the Davis Cup.
But British number two Evans had just 30 minutes to recover from his win in the singles before facing Purcell and Ebden in the doubles alongside Wimbledon champion Skupksi.
The British pair connected well having played doubles together in 2021 and narrowly missed out on the first set after forcing a tie-break.
But Ebden and Purcell were Wimbledon champions in 2022 – with Ebden also runner-up at the US Open just days ago alongside regular doubles partner Rohan Bopanna – and needed just one break of serve in the second set to wrap up the match.
Davis Cup round-up – wins for Czech Republic and Canada
Spain won the Davis Cup in 2019 but made a losing start at home as they were beaten in both singles matches against the Czech Republic in Group C, with the matches being held in Valencia.
World number 119 Tomas Machac beat Bernabe Zapata Miralles 6-4 6-4 before Jiri Lehecka defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 (7-5) 7-5.
The Group A matches are being held in Bologna, Italy and the home fans saw their country lose against Canada.
Canadians Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo gained straight-set wins over Lorenzo Sonego and Lorenzo Musetti respectively.
American Frances Tiafoe, 11th in the world, suffered a shock loss against 77th-ranked Borna Gojo of Croatia in Group D.
Gojo gained a 6-4 7-6 (8-6) success after American Mackenzie McDonald had earlier given the United States the lead when he defeated Dino Prizmic 6-4 6-2.
That tie went to the deciding doubles match with Rajeev Ram, who won his third successive US Open men’s doubles title earlier this month with Britain’s Joe Salisbury, and Austin Krajicek beating Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (3-7) 6-2.