Greg Rusedski summoned enough spirit from the wreckage of his injury-ravaged summer to leave Great Britain on the brink of victory in their Davis Cup relegation play-off with Ukraine in Odessa.
Rusedski stretched his ailing limbs to the limit to recover from match-point down and see off his opponent Sergiy Stakhovsky 1-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 9-7 in a gruelling battle lasting almost four hours.
Then Andy Murray’s routine straight-sets win over Ukrainian number two Aleksandr Dolgopolov Jnr virtually assured captain John Lloyd’s men will keep their place in the Euro-African Zone Group One.
Lloyd said: “I think it would have to be the greatest Davis Cup performance Greg has played. At this stage of his career it was unbelievable – an incredible performance.”
A five-set epic was the last thing 33-year-old Rusedski needed after a season marred by severe hip problems which have left him contemplating the prospect of imminent retirement.
But Rusedski rose to the occasion, fighting back after staring defeat in the face when he faced break point for a double break in the fourth set when he trailed 3-0 and by two sets to one.
The British number two was also somewhat fortunate to survive when Stakhovsky fashioned his solitary match point in the 10th game of the final set, but mis-hit a return on Rusedski’s second serve.
However, Rusedski was rightly satisfied with his gutsy performance and insisted: “Mentally I think it is one of my strongest games in the Davis Cup and it is where 15 years of experience comes in handy.
“I did what I had to do out there which was the key. I feel like maybe I am not moving as well as I have been in the past but I still have the spirit out there and that counts for a lot.
“I am stubborn and I refuse to lose. It is hard to accept you cannot do things you have done in the past but you just find a way and that is what I did today.”
Murray had no such reason to dig deep to see off 17-year-old world number 452 Aleksandr Dolgopolov Jnr 6-3 6-4 6-2 to leave his team needing to win just one of three remaining rubbers to clinch the tie.
Despite a sluggish start, in which he was forced to save four first set break points, and an error-strewn service game which saw him broken at the start of the second, the outcome was not in doubt.
Dolgopolov showed plenty of nice touches but was never going to sustain his performance against Murray, who simply shifted his game into another gear at crucial moments to wrap up an easy victory.
Murray said: “I was happy with the way I played. I was pretty aggressive when I needed to be and I played fairly well up at the net.”
The teenager caught glimpses of Rusedski’s marathon performance as he warmed up for his rubber and admitted: “It was a great fightback but you always know Greg will fight to the end.”
Murray’s routine assignment came as a relief to Lloyd, who admitted to feeling twitchy during his first experience of life as Davis Cup captain on the sidelines.
“It just feels different and the first match was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for me,” added Lloyd. “But I am just happy to sit there and say nothing and hand the towels out.”
With victory in the tie now all but assured, guaranteeing Britain avoid slipping into Group Two for the first time in 10 years, Lloyd has options for tomorrow’s doubles encounter.
Although Murray and Rusedski are the named pair, the line-up can be subject to change and it would appear more likely Rusedski will be rewarded with a rest with either Jamie Delgado or Jamie Baker partnering Murray.
But Lloyd would not be rushed into making a decision, insisting: “Greg says he feels fine but he is on a high right now. We will sleep on it and see how he feels in the morning.”