Dan Evans and Neal Skupski fought back from a set down to clinch a heroic doubles victory over France and seal Britain’s progression to the last eight of the Davis Cup.
The British pair came through a gruelling battle to edge out the experienced French duo of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vassellin to cap off a fairytale ending for Britain on a day of high drama in Manchester.
After saving four match points in the deciding set, Evans and Skupski kept their nerve in a final set tiebreak to secure not only a 1-6 7-6 7-6 triumph, but one of Britain’s most memorable Davis Cup victories.
The pair got off to the worst possible start after a 6-1 trouncing in the opening set but Evans - who was forced to come from a set down in the day’s first singles rubber against teen sensation Arthur Fils - harnessed the energy from a record 13,000 crowd inside Manchester Arena to ensure Britain marched onto the finals in Malaga this November.
“I don’t know how we won that match, just sheer fight,” said Skupski. “Evo [Evans] did an unbelievable performance in the singles, to come back after losing the first set and then to come out and play doubles with me, it’s an incredible effort by him.
“First set, it wasn’t looking too good. I was thinking I probably wouldn’t get picked again, but we regrouped and then I guess the rest is history. We’re off to Malaga.”
Leon Smith, the Great Britain captain, was equally as drained after sitting through more than nine hours of tennis. France had levelled the tie when Ugo Humbert got the better of Cameron Norrie in another 6-7 6-3 7-5 battle to send the tie to a tense doubles decider, but it was Britain who would emerge victorious.
“I don’t know what I’ve just sat through,” said Smith. “I ran over to the DJ at one point and told him to put on some banging tunes at every end change. It’s tough to keep going all the time. These boys are amazing. We get on absolutely incredibly well, everyone has played their part which is important.”
Smith had a tough selection call to make for the winner-takes-all tie against an in-form France squad, with both nations needing to win to progress to the last eight.
He backed his highest-ranked players in Evans and Norrie to get the job done in Manchester, leaving Murray and youngster Jack Draper to play the role of tactical cheerleaders courtside.
But Sebastien Grosjean, the France captain, also sprung a surprise by handing a Davis Cup debut to 19-year-old Fils who, at 44th in the world, is the highest-ranked teenager on the ATP Tour.
Evans was outfoxed early on by the young Frenchman – finding himself a set and a break down – but refused to reach for the panic button.
He broke back to level the tie at 3-3 in the second set and as Fils’ serve began to unravel, Evans was almost flawless in his shotmaking. The Frenchman’s frustration manifested itself in the form of a no-look handshake at the net after the Briton’s 3-6 6-3 6-4 win.
Norrie, however, did not enjoy the same fortune. Last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist - who lost in straight sets to Stan Wawrinka last Friday – has struggled to rediscover the rich vein of form that saw him break into the world’s top 10 last year.
His double-fault at the business end of a tense third set with Umbert on match point was an apt summation of how his week – and last few months – have panned out, before Evans and Skupski saved the day.
“A set down, a few of the guys from the bench said to get the crowd involved,” said Evans. “It sort of turned into pandemonium from there.”