BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori both won their 12th straight match in the Davis Cup to leave titleholder Britain and Japan tied at 1-1 in the first round on Friday.
Playing his first match in nearly five weeks and since becoming a father, Murray displayed some rustiness in easily beating Taro Daniel 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to successfully launch Britain’s defense of the cup on an indoor court in Birmingham.
Nishikori had it much tougher in the second singles match before finally putting away 157th-ranked Dan Evans 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).
“It wasn’t an easy match,” said Nishikori. “I thought I started well and played more aggressively (than Evans) and then in the third set he started playing better, hitting a better first serve and many aces.
“There were many ups and downs and I lost a little bit of focus in the third. He (Evans) started playing much better and there were tight moments and it was good to finish in three sets.”
Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray are scheduled to play Yoshihito Nishioka and Yasutaka Uchiyama in Saturday’s doubles. However, both captains look set to make changes with Andy Murray and Nishikori likely to be fielded, according to the Davis Cup website.
“I will discuss (it) tonight,” said Nishikori. “Even if Andy won’t play, they have a great doubles (pair). It’s going to be tough doubles so I have to be focused. If I have a chance, I want to play.”
Nishikori is set to face Murray in what should be the highlight of the tie in the reverse singles on Sunday.
“I know that’s going to be a tough match because he has beaten me many times,” said Nishikori. “It’s not going to be easy but I will try to play good tennis like today. I know how important it is to win this match on Sunday.”
Earlier, Murray proved way too hot for a nervous-looking Daniel to handle and won the first 11 points of the match as he quickly took a 3-0 lead. Daniel avoided the dreaded bagel by getting on the board in the sixth game but Murray served out to take the first set in 28 minutes.
Daniel’s nerves settled in the second set but Murray broke for 4-3 before going on to clinch the set and produced some clever returns in the third en route to victory.
“I definitely feel like I could have done better but I feel like these kind of matches happen because he (Murray) is so good, obviously,” said Daniel, ranked 87th in the world. “The nerves I felt, the pressure I felt was all because of the pressure he put on my second serve and when I am returning and stuff, so credit to him.”
Murray sealed the match with an ace, and didn’t drop serve.
“The second and third sets were tough,” Murray said. “I haven’t played for a long time. I was a little bit out of breath.”
Murray hadn’t played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final on Jan. 31. His wife, Kim, gave birth to Sophia on Feb. 7.
“It has been tough the last few days being away from her for the first time, but it had to happen at some stage,” Murray said, “and it is a pleasure to represent my country and be with teammates that we won with last year.”
Britain beat Belgium in November for its first Davis Cup title in 79 years, and Murray scored the winning point in the final to go through the whole campaign unbeaten.
The sixth-ranked Nishikori’s unbeaten run in the Davis Cup dates back four years and it was never seriously in doubt against Evans, whose form has improved since last year when his ranking dropped below No. 700
Evans, a late injury replacement for Kyle Edmund and playing in his hometown, had won their only previous meeting, but it was an uphill battle from the moment Nishikori won the first set on his sixth set point.
Evans made a double fault to drop the second set and never led in the third-set tiebreaker, in which Nishikori won the last three points.
The winner of the match will play either Kazakhstan or Djokovic’s Serbia in July.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, Australia, the crack Bob and Mike Bryan combination gave the United States a crucial edge in their Davis Cup World Group tie with a thrilling five-set doubles win over the Lleyton Hewitt-inspired Australians at Kooyong on Saturday.
The 16-time Grand Slam doubles champions looked to be cruising to victory, breezing through the opening two sets before Hewitt and debutant John Peers fought their way into a fifth set.
But the American twins proved too strong in the deciding set, winning 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in 2 hours, 30 minutes to give their team a vital 2-1 lead in the best-of-five rubber tie.
Jim Courier’s Americans can wrap up the first-round tie on Kooyong’s grass court with just one more victory on Sunday.