It was 101 years ago that Great Britain, then known as British Isles, played Belgium for the first time in Davis Cup. It was in the final that year and the British Isles swept to a 5-0 victory. Ten other times the two nations have met and Great Britain owns a 7-4 advantage but the Belgians won the last time back in 2012 in Glasgow, incredibly it was in the second round of the lowly Group 1 Europe/Africa Zone.
Three years later and the journey to get out of the doldrums has put both nations in the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. When they were at those low levels they could not have imagined being in this position now as much as they might have wanted to. From that last meeting three players on the Belgian side will be part of this year’s final, Ruben Bemelmans, Steve Darcis and David Goffin while the one player from Great Britain to be part of things again is Dan Evans.
Great Britain, led by the Murray brothers, Andy and Jamie and in particular Andy, took an unassailable 3-1 lead, Andy being involved in all three of their points, against Australia before finishing off with a 3-2 result to reach the final for the first time since 1978. That year they lost to the USA in California. Belgium meanwhile was taken to the wire by Argentina before sealing their position in the fifth and final rubber.
Great Britain certainly had a great ride to the final having played all their ties at home. The final will be their first tie away but the journey to the final saw them achieve something that had not been done since 1933 and that was to beat the other three Grand Slam nations consecutively in a single year – USA in the first round, France in the quarters and Australia in the semis.
With Belgium playing Great Britain in the final it marks only the third time in the World Group that the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final will be between two unseeded nations and it’s the first time since 2010.
“There’s no guarantees but reaching the final is a big achievement, it’s something that hasn’t been done for a long time and everyone in the team should be very proud of that,” Murray said after downing Bernard Tomic 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 to put Great Britain into the final.
“I’ve thought about what it means to reach a final (but) I’ll think about winning the event if we have an opportunity to do that in the next match but you know there is so much tennis still to go, you still need to win three matches, and it is two or three months before the next tie and a lot can happen between now and then.”
Across the Channel, Goffin had saved the day by levelling the tie with a convincing victory over Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 and then Darcis had hearts fluttering when he failed to serve out his match with Federico Delbonis in the fourth set, needed a tiebreaker to seal the deal 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6.
“It’s one of the biggest moments of my career, that’s for sure,” Darcis said. “If you told me ten years ago we would play a final in Davis Cup I would not believe [you]. The atmosphere was unbelievable. You know, this stadium is so famous in Belgium and for our small country it’s pretty big.”
Where the final is played in Belgium will be determined and confirmed in the coming weeks but the city of Ghent is one of the front runners.
The British captain Leon Smith added: “We will dust off our passports and look forward to a trip to Belgium.”