Andy Murray survived a five-set thriller to get Great Britain off to a winning start in their Davis Cup World Group play-off against Croatia.
Playing world number 108 Marin Cilic in today’s opening singles rubber, the 20-year-old recovered from a sluggish start and a fourth-set slip to record a 3-6 6-4 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory after just under three hours on Wimbledon’s Number One Court.
It was only Murray’s fourth win from seven matches since missing three months of the season with a serious wrist injury.
It put Great Britain 1-0 up in the best-of-five battle for a place in the elite World Group, and made them overwhelming favourites after Croatia number one Ivan Ljubicic pulled out of today’s second rubber against Tim Henman with a urinary infection.
Playing only his fifth Davis Cup rubber and first on grass, Cilic made a nervous start this morning and had to save two break points in the opening game.
But, urged on by a vocal away following, the unforced errors suddenly disappeared in game four as the 18-year-old claimed Murray’s serve with alarming ease.
From there, Cilic hardly put a foot wrong in wrapping up the first set 6-3.
His ominous form continued at the start of the second, the Croatian’s crunching serve showing little sign of cracking.
And despite looking less than comfortable at the net, Cilic was demonstrating a real willingness to mix up his tactics.
A previously timid Murray eventually decided to follow suit in the ninth game, a decision that paid off in spectacular fashion.
Suddenly pumped up, the Scot held and then broke to take the set 6-4.
Murray maintained his new-found urgency and made it seven straight games to race to 5-0 up in the third set.
What initially appeared a blip saw Cilic break before Murray hit straight back to take the set 6-1.
However, Murray appeared intent on putting his supporters through further agony and he surrendered his serve twice to go 3-0 down in the fourth.
He rallied to 3-2 and appeared to have made it 3-3 but for a controversial late line call, which sparked a furious exchange between Great Britain captain David Lloyd and the umpire.
Clearly rattled, Murray fell 5-2 behind but he then produced some of his best tennis of the match.
Cilic reacted by almost choking twice serving for the set before coming from 0-30 down to take it 6-4.
Murray wasted no time making his move in the decider, breaking his opponent to go 2-0 up before serving out the match.
Murray expressed his delight at coming through such a gruelling encounter and admitted he felt extra pressure because of his desire to provide Tim Henman with a winning send-off.
Henman will retire at the end of this three-day tie and Murray told the BBC: “I think the whole team wants to play well for Tim and I was a bit nervous at the start before I settled down.
“That was huge. I’ve had a tough year and to play a match like that after such a long period of not really playing well was tough.
“The momentum was going with me going into the fourth set and I played a rubbish three games to go behind and started to play better towards the end.”
Captain John Lloyd said: “It was a gutsy effort. There is always a lot of pressure in Davis Cup and I thought Cilic played absolutely brilliantly. I thought he had to start missing.
“He’s someone we’ve seen a bit about at Queen’s but I didn’t expect him to play that well. I was getting a little bit nervous there. But he still had to win three sets against Andy and that’s not easy.”