LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s rise from embarrassing Davis Cup lightweights to title contenders has been nothing short of spectacular and they will begin slight favorites to reach a first final in 37 years against Australia on Friday.
A glance at the respective depth of the two sides contesting the semi-final would appear to question that wisdom, but with talisman Andy Murray in their ranks and an expected vociferous crowd in Glasgow, the momentum is with the hosts.
While Britain claimed the last of their nine titles in 1936, Belgium have never won the team competition and will also approach their home semi-final against Argentina in Brussels with opportunity knocking loudly on the door.
Australia’s cause has not been helped by volatile talent Nick Kyrgios being left out after a spate of disciplinary problems, yet they still boast a line-up consisting of world number 23 Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis, big-serving Sam Groth and former world number one Lleyton Hewitt who is bidding for a golden finale to a career that will end in January.
Britain, though, have Murray -- two of them in fact with Andy’s less-celebrated brother Jamie fresh from reaching the U.S. Open doubles final with Australian John Peers.
“If we’re being honest, if we’ve got Andy in our team then we’ve got a great chance to beat anyone,” Jamie told the ITF’s website in the build-up to the tie.
His younger brother’s contribution to Britain’s cause has been immense, building a 23-2 record in singles rubbers to steer his country out of the Davis Cup wilderness they inhabited in 2010 when they nearly dropped into the bottom division.
In July he dredged every last drop of energy to win three matches against France in the World Group quarter-finals, clinching the decisive point despite being almost on his knees against Gilles Simon at Queen’s Club.
He also won both his singles against the U.S. in round one.
But he will need help, from brother Jamie, and either Kyle Edmund or James Ward who are vying for the second singles spot.
The 20-year-old Edmund, ranked 100 in the world, suffered an injury scare this week, but is relishing a red-hot debut.
“It’ll be a great experience if I get chosen to play, but whoever plays is going to do the best for the team, for the crowd, for the country, it’s the team that matters,” he said.
Hewitt, 34, will be a formidable foe, whichever role he plays and his desire will no doubt rub off on his team mates.
“We won’t be leaving anything in the locker room, that’s for certain,” he said as 28-times champions Australia seek a first final since 2003.
Belgium will rely heavily on mercurial world number 15 David Goffin against an Argentina side featuring Leonardo Mayer as their top singles player in the continued absence of former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.
Argentina are trying to shake-off the “nearly man” tag having lost four finals.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis