Leon Smith knows that he has a tough decision to make when Britain takes on Serbia at the Davis Cup later this month. The two nations will meet in a knockout quarter-final in Malaga and, with Novak Djokovic representing his nation, Smith must pick a man to face the world No 1 in the second singles rubber of their tie. With Dan Evans injured, Cameron Norrie missing the Paris Masters and Andy Murray suffering a first-round exit this week, the GB captain knows that he must be “fair” to his squad and decide who has the best shot at pushing Djokovic.
Following Evans’ withdrawal from the Davis Cup, Norrie remains the No 1 player for Britain while Murray looks poised to step into the role of his nation’s No 2 man. But it won’t be as simple as choosing the top-ranked player to take on Djokovic when Britain and Serbia do battle on Thursday, November 23.
The two nations will be fighting for a spot in the semi-final of the World Cup of men’s tennis, playing two singles matches and – if needed – a decisive doubles rubber. With Jack Draper also in Britain’s squad, Smith knows that he will need to find the perfect combination to give his nation a chance of defeating Serbia – especially when it comes to the clash against Djokovic.
“I think it’s going to be being fair to our players,” the 47-year-old said, speaking in Paris about how he would determine the player for the No 1 singles match against the 24-time Major winner. “There’s not going to be an easy answer to this for me who ultimately has to make the call on it. Everyone wants to play.
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“The singles players there are wanting to play, the doubles players are wanting to play. And it’s tough because you’re going into a knockout where you could fly out there for one match and you’re home.”
While captains often pick their highest-ranked player – in this case Norrie – to face the opposing team’s top man, Smith was thinking about other elements of the match-up. He continued: “I’ve got to be fair to everybody and really think about who can, for that No 1 spot, push Novak the hardest based on current form, how they’re feeling, physical state, previous matchups. Whatever it is, everything goes into the mixer and then make a fair call on it.”
But it won’t be easy for the man who led Britain to Davis Cup glory back in 2015, as two of his players aren’t able to get on the court to prove themselves. Norrie pulled out of this week’s Paris Masters with a knee injury while Murray suffered a three-set defeat in the first round and is yet to make a decision on whether he will play in next week’s Moselle Open in Metz.
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“I think it’s good that we’ve got options and that’s why it’s good if the players are staying active closer to the time because then you see confidence, the form, especially if it’s indoors, similar environment,” he explained. “But obviously with Evo now not playing, Cam obviously needing a break, obviously a brutal one for Andy yesterday. Not everyone is active. But we’ve still got a good team we just need to figure out who gives us the best chance.
“Obviously the No 1 singles is going to be very difficult against Novak. No 2 match, everyone will look at that and know that’s as important as the doubles. Not saying that something can’t happen in the No 1 singles but it would have to be obviously a very special performance on the day.”
While Djokovic would be the favourite no matter who he faces between Norrie, Murray and Draper, Britain’s captain still isn’t losing the belief that his team could pull off a stunning upset. “You have to believe you can win. It would be a big, big upset but there’s no point in going in and just writing it off,” Smith added.
“Someone can have a bad day, they’re human. So if you don’t do your prep, do what you should do, then you can’t capitalise on it anyway. So I think you’ve got to prepare.” But the Scot knew that Djokovic would be more vulnerable in the doubles if the tie came down to it.
“We’ve got very good doubles options to help us out. Just got to do a job to make sure it goes to a deciding doubles, that’s what it is,” he said. “Whoever gets a singles win. Or we win both and that would be great, don’t even play doubles.”
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