- Neal Skupski and Dan Evans beat Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin
- Evans was earlier involved in standoff with Arthur Fils at the net
Neal Skupski made himself that rare thing – a popular scouser in Manchester – when he helped steer Great Britain into the finals week of the Davis Cup in dramatic fashion on Sundayu night.
The Liverpudlian doubles specialist launched a final serve at 7-6 in a sudden death tiebreak to combine with Dan Evans to clinch a thunderous deciding rubber over Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. It gave GB the 2-1 win against France, which was enough for the hosts to top the group. GB won 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (8-6).
They will now go forward to Malaga with seven other nations for the eight-team finals after the week came right down to the wire, despite them having won all their matches.
The GB duo had to save four match points to take it to a tiebreak nine hours after the day’s action had begun. Amid pandemonium they got back from 4-2 down and forced a first match point at 6-5, which was saved with a service winner. An error from Roger-Vasselin set up a second match point and the same player returned the Skupski service long.
Evans was the outstanding player of a long day, coming back to win his singles against rising star Arthur Fils and then forming his occasional partnership with world doubles number three Skupski.
Neal Skupski and Dan Evans managed to beat Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin
Despite the best efforts of Mahut (right) and Roger-Vaselin (left) they ended up losing
Evans expresses his delight after Great Britain’s victory against France was confirmed
They were often second best against the experienced French pairing and did not break serve over the whole match which lasted two hours and 50 minutes.
With more than 13,000 fans packed into the AO Arena it represented the biggest ever crowd to have attended a Davis Cup tie in the UK, and the atmosphere was suitably febrile as one Grand Slam nation faced off against another.
Debutant Fils observed that the experience will make him a better player in the long run after he had been brought in for Adrian Mannarino, who was reported to be suffering a groin strain.
The doubt over Mannarino affected the selection thinking of Leon Smith, who would have been aware of Evans’s excellent previous record against the French second string.
In the end the GB Captain Smith decided to overlook both Jack Draper and Andy Murray. One advantage of picking Norrie would be that Evans – as the second highest ranked player – could play the first match of the day and have proper recovery time ahead of the doubles.
Evans was becoming only the fourth British players to feature in 25 Davis Cup ties, and his final set would have been up there with the best that he has played in national colours.
The 33 year-old had looked in deep trouble at 3-1 down in the second set with the Fils, regarded as the best young prospect the French have unearthed in years, playing without nerves.
There then occurred a remarkable turnaround which saw the home player reel off seven games as he whipped the crowd up to both try and find something extra, and unsettle the teenager.
Fils refused to even look at Evans, although the latter subsequently played down the incident
Cam Norrie was edged out 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 by Ugo Humber in the second singles match
It certainly worked, and his level dramatically dipped, while that of Evans went the other way. Fils recovered his composure and revisited his form of the first set, but Evans played almost error-free tennis at the end to clinch it after a tense final game.
The Norrie-Evans singles combination had been preferred to a permutation involving Draper, who has been in more impressive nick than the GB number one.
World number 36 Humbert is a classy lefthander, who ought to have achieved more in his career, and if Norrie was to beat him it would be his first victory over someone ranked in the top 40 since the early part of March.
After losing the tiebreak 7-5 he took advantage of some looser play from his opponent to level the match, and had a chance to break at 2-2 in the decider, only for the Frenchman to clip the outside of the line with a driven backhand.
Evans became only the fourth British player to feature in 25 Davis Cup ties