Whatever happens in the Davis Cup final, beginning on Friday, there is guaranteed to be an unfamiliar name on the famous old trophy. Rather than the likes of Spain, the United States, Australia, Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic, which have dominated the annual team event in recent decades, it is Belgium and Great Britain that will battle it out over a best-of-five series for the 2015 title in Ghent.
Britain was one of the founding members of the competition, when it began in 1900 initially as a head-to-head contest between Britain and the United States. In all Britain has won the title nine times, however that last of those triumphs came in 1936. The land that calls Wimbledon home hasn’t even made it into a final since 1978, and only five years ago had to beat Turkey to avoid relegation to the fourth and lowest tier of the Davis Cup.
But just as Andy Murray ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a male champion at Wimbledon, the Scot is now on the verge of ending their barren streak in the Davis Cup. Murray has win all six of his singles contests in this year’s competition to help his team past the U.S., France and Australia, while he has also teamed up with brother Jamie to win both the doubles matches he has contested.
The fate of the final will undoubtedly rest heavily on the shoulders of the world No. 3, especially with Britain’s other singles player being something of a surprise choice by captain Leon Smith. Rather than the more experienced James Ward, captain Leon Smith has opted for 20-year-old Kyle Edmund, who has a world ranking of 100 and will be playing in his first ever Davis Cup match. Still, the format, which sees two singles matches on Friday, the reverse singles on Sunday, and a doubles contest in between, could yet see Ward utilized as an alternative, likely on the final day of singles.
Edmund’s case for selection was helped greatly by the fact that he recently won a Challenger title on the clay of Buenos Aires. And it is clay, and the 13,000-capacity Flanders Expo Arena, that hosts Belgium have chosen in an effort to give them their best chance of claiming victory. Even more so than their opponents, it would be a historic triumph if Belgium can pull it off.
While Britain’s record in the Davis Cup is nothing to write home about, Belgium have never lifted the trophy, and have only ever been in the final once, 101 years ago. Their run to this year’s final has confounded expectations, but, even the Belgians would surely admit, has come with a sizable helping hand. Starting by beating a Switzerland team missing Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, Belgium also got past a Canada squad deprived of their star player, Milos Raonic, before ousting Argentina, who were without U.S. Open champions Juan Martin del Potro.
Belgium’s star man is David Goffin, currently 16th in the ATP rankings. The 24-year-old won both his singles matches as Belgium beat Argentina 3-2 in the semifinals. Also pulling something of a surprise, captain Johan van Herck picked Ruben Bemelmans, ranked 108th, rather than the 84th-ranked Steve Darcis in the singles. Bemelmans has not won a Davis Cup singles rubber in more than two years. Van Herck has, however, hinted that he could make changes to his scheduled lineup, which also includes 128th-ranked Kimmer Coppejans, on Saturday or Sunday.
The buildup to the final has been overshadowed by the continuing security concerns in Brussels, just 35 miles from there the final will take place. The Belgian capital has been in lockdown for four days as authorities say there is a “serious and imminent” threat of a Paris-style terrorist attack. As a result, Britain arrived in Ghent to practice on the clay a day later than previously planned.
Prediction: It seemed implausible at the start of this year’s competition, but Great Britain are now favorites to land the trophy. Andy Murray has a 2-0 head-to-head record against Belgium’s main threat, Goffin, including brushing him aside for the loss of just one game in Paris earlier this month. The British No. 1 has also become far more comfortable on clay in the past couple of years. And, while he could be disturbed by having to play on the hard courts at the ATP World Tour Finals last week, it shouldn’t be an undue hindrance. Even if Edmund freezes on the big stage, as seems probable, Murray should be capable of wrapping up two singles victories and teaming up with brother Jamie to get a vital doubles’ point.
Predicted score: Great Britain 3-2 Belgium
Day 1 (7:30 a.m. EST)
David Goffin vs. Kyle Edmund
Ruben Bemelmans vs. Andy Murray
Day 2 (9 a.m. EST)
Kimmer Coppejans & Steve Darcis vs. Andy Murray & Jamie Murray
Day 3 (7 a.m. EST)
David Goffin vs. Andy Murray
Ruben Bemelmans vs. Kyle Edmund
TV channel: The Tennis Channel
Live stream: Tennis Channel Everywhere