The problem of dead rubbers in the Davis Cup was resolved in innovative style on Sunday at the Rouen Kindarena. For a few points of his match against Julien Benneteau, Dan Evans found himself facing three Frenchmen at once – an exhibition-style twist to this otherwise inconsequential encounter.
Purists might object that this made a mockery of the event, but it is hard to see why it was important to play the match with a straight face. Great Britain had already lost the tie in two days, by a 3-0 margin, leaving Sunday's ticket-holders with a dwindling asset.
So when the French captain Yannick Noah nipped onto the court, along with Benneteau’s doubles partner Nicolas Mahut, the crowd’s response was hugely enthusiastic.
Evans wanted to go further, trying to call Jamie MacDonald – the regular supporter who organises Stirling University’s group of travelling fans – onto the court.
But that was a step too far for referee Soren Friemel, who ruled that only those actually involved in the tie should be admitted to the playing area.
Evans later complained about this decision, saying “For sure, the referee should have let Jamie on - it was not as if I picked out a random [person].”
But Judy Murray posted a far more upbeat message on her Twitter page, suggesting that “Noah's sense of fun” had transformed a dead rubber into an exhibition and brought an otherwise sleepy final day to life.
— British Tennis (@BritishTennis) April 9, 2017
The oddest detail may be that Evans will be credited with a tour-level win after completing a 6-1, 6-2 victory. (His only other win on clay also came in a dead rubber, against Croatia in 2013.) Benneteau might have played a major role in France’s tie-clinching victory in Saturday’s doubles, but he seemed to have been celebrating hard overnight, and looked lethargic while playing solo.
Later, Kyle Edmund lost 6-4, 6-4 to the in-form Jeremy Chardy in the final rubber - this one played within the usual rules.
There were no complaints from the International Tennis Federation, which runs the Davis Cup. "We don't expect any fallout from this at all," a spokesman said. "The only reason the fan was not allowed to go on court was because it was a security issue."