Great Britain saw their Davis Cup hopes dashed in Innsbruck on Tuesday night in agonising fashion as Germany gained revenge for defeat to the Brits at the same quarter-final stage in 2019 – and head to a semi-final in Madrid on Saturday.
In a rollercoaster tie GB led after the first singles match with Dan Evans demolishing Peter Gojowczyk 6-2, 6-1. But things started to unravel in the second singles as British No1 and world No12 Cameron Norrie lost in three sets 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 2-6 to Jan-Lennard Struff.
And then the German doubles pairing of Kevin Krawietz – like Struff, part of that 2019 team - and Tim Putz saw off Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski in two tiebreak sets 7-6 (12-10), 7-6 (7-5) after the British team squandered a 5-0 lead in the breaker to take it into a third and deciding set.
Putz said: “It was just great persistence from us – it was a pretty high level and not much between us in the whole match. And coming back from 5-0 down in the final tiebreak it was about keeping going and believing in ourselves.”
Krawietz said: “We are super happy to be going to Madrid and the semi-finals, the whole team was great today.”
It all ended in bitter disappointment but had started so well for GB. In a surprise move for the quarter-final in Innsbruck, still behind closed doors, Germany drafted in Gojowczyk to face Evans in the first match in place of Dominik Koepfer who played in the singles against Austria, where he lost to Jurij Rodionov in straight sets.
The German No1 Jan-Lennard Struff was then earmarked to play Cameron Norrie in the second singles – with the team operating without talisman and world No3 Alex Zverev who opted to rest up after winning the recent ATP Finals, his final act of a successful but arduous season.
The 32-year-old Gojowczyk, ranked No86 in the world, and Evans, 31, had played just twice with the head-to-head 2-0 to the German, but the last meeting was back in Challenger Tour days in 2016.
But a pumped-up Evans produced one of his most emphatic and convincing Davis Cup performances to run out a comfortable 6-2, 6-1 winner and put GB firmly on the front foot in the tie. Two breaks were enough in the first set, and he bettered that with three in the second set to wrap up victory
From a position of strength having won, Evans insisted that the very late change to the German line-up left something to be desired. He said: “It was difficult. I don’t want to say it should be changed but I think something could be done about changing the team an hour before – it’s not the best preparation.
“I saw Peter warning up and going into the food area with a water bottle while Koepfer didn’t so I had an idea and said to Leon I thought it might be Peter. I played some of my best tennis of the year in this match. I didn’t feel good this morning, so it has been nice to come out and get a win for the team.
“I decided to stay cross-court in this game, having not played great in the last one against the Czechs. I waited until I had a big opportunity if I wanted to go down the line. I worked hard to get him to dog out the ball from low and make him take it down the line.”
And so it was over to the British No1 Norrie, up against Germany’s world No51 Struff, to see if he could close out the tie and seal a semi-final place without the need for a result in the doubles. Norrie had won their only previous match in 2019 Auckland semi-finals.
However it was immediately clear he had his hands full on Tuesday. Struff secured an early break to lead 2-0, but at 4-2 Norrie broke back. The Brit have himself a chance to serve out the first set at 6-5 but fluffed his lines. And after a hotly contested tiebreak it was Struff that prevailed 7-6 (8-6).
One break of serve - secured in the sixth game - was enough for Norrie in the second set as he took it 6-3. But despite showing clear signs of fatigue Struff dug very deep in the decider and from 2-2 won the last four games for a 6-2 win to the delight of the Germany bench.
So as with the final group games for both teams the result hinged on the doubles, with Salisbury and Skupski up against Krawietz and Putz. The first set was good as set of doubles tennis as you could wish to see. Skupski saved one set point at 5-6, but it was decided on a tiebreak that saw four set points for the Brits and another three for Germany, the last one proving decisive at 12-10.
And Germany won the match on a second tiebreak after an extraordinary turnaround – winning the last seven points from 5-0 down to take it 7-5 against a devastated British duo.