For a group of nations that prefer the cricket bat to the baseball bat, Great Britain looked quite comfortable inside Petco Park.
And no Brit was steadier than Andy Murray, who hit a four—there’s been enough baseball metaphors this week—with a four-set, fourth-rubber win over Sam Querrey that eliminated the United States and gave Great Britain its first World Group victory since 1986.
You could not have asked more from Querrey, not after his shocking collapse in Friday’s second match against James Ward. Hitting out on the ball and making Murray hit another shot time and again, Querrey had a real opportunity to win the first set, which he took to a tiebreaker from 3-1 down. But after leading that tiebreaker 4-2, Murray won five of the next six points, the last off a mishandled Querrey volley. While the ill-timed error recalled Querrey’s gaffes two days earlier, it wasn’t emblematic of his overall play today. The American did all he could, but it was not nearly enough.
The same could be said about a game in the fourth set which gave Murray a lead he would never relinquish. With Murray serving at 2-2, Querrey—on three consecutive points—hit an acutely angled-service return, forced the world No. 6 to hit a fadeaway lob, and then forced him to hit a difficult backhand pass. Murray went on to hit winners from each of those precarious positions.
This terrific trio of shots was an extreme example of the control Murray owned in the majority of rallies. While the clay surface made him hit countless shots and made his second serve a sitting duck, it also allowed him to get better looks at Querrey’s fiery serve—and to give Querrey more chances to miss. Querrey’s aggressive mentality was the way to compete, but Murray’s defense, cunning, and shot placements were superior, and would have overcame Querrey even on a faster surface, like the outfield grass. (Oops.)
Querrey did well to take the second set in a tiebreaker—from 4-4 on, he was nearly untouchable on serve—but he undid all that good work with a poor third set that went Murray’s way in what seemed like a matter of minutes.
After that, it was just a matter of time, though not without some late drama. Querrey saved a match/tie point on his serve, then earned two break points after a Murray double-fault at 5-3. But once again, when it mattered most, Querrey didn’t deliver, which will make this 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-3 loss even harder to swallow.
As home defeats go, this one reminds me of the United States’ 2011 quarterfinal loss to Spain, in which Andy Roddick fell flat in his home state on a surface that seemed detrimental to the visitors. But it also reminds me of the Americans’ 2005 loss to Croatia. That also took place in California, and the U.S. had an impressive roster, including the Bryan brothers, Roddick, and Andre Agassi. Had John Isner played as originally planned, Britain’s task would have been far more formidable.
In that 2005 tie, Ivan Ljubicic nearly single-handedly beat the United States. Murray didn’t play in the doubles like Ljubicic did, but it appears that Britain made a savvy decision to keep him fresh for today’s match. He needed to be at his best for large portions of it, though the result never felt in doubt.
After this impressive road win, Great Britain will travel again, to Italy. Andy and Co. should be prepared to play in the dirt once again.