Great Britain’s bid to reach the Davis Cup Finals knockout stage started with a tense victory as debutant Jack Draper beat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis.
In the first of a best-of-three-match tie, 21-year-old Draper won 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) against Kokkinakis.
British number two Dan Evans plays Alex de Minaur, ranked 12th in the world, in the second singles match on Wednesday.
Evans is then set to play with Wimbledon champion Neal Skupski in what could be a deciding doubles match.
Four nations – Britain, Australia, France and Switzerland – are playing in the group stage event held at Manchester’s AO Arena.
They all play each other once in a round-robin event, with the top two countries going through to the knockout stage – known as the ‘Final Eight’ – in Malaga later this year.
Draper repays the faith
With a wealth of options at his disposal, British captain Leon Smith sprung somewhat of a surprise by picking Draper and Evans as his two singles players ahead of Cameron Norrie and Andy Murray.
Norrie, 28, remains the nation’s highest-ranked player but has been unable to match the consistently high levels that took him into the world’s top 10 last year.
Former world number one Murray, 36, has enjoyed a productive season in which he broke back into the world’s top 40 for the first time since having career-saving hip surgery in 2019.
However, he was left despondent after another early Grand Slam exit at the US Open and conceded in New York he did not “deserve” to play ahead of Draper.
Smith, too, decided that was the case as he picked current form over previous pedigree.
“I’m playing for my country and had to put everything out on the line – usually I’m playing for myself,” said Draper, who reached a career-high ranking of 38th in January before his season was decimated by injury.
“There is nothing better. It was a real battle, it is amazing to play my first Davis Cup tie in the UK and I’m grateful to be here.
“I’m so happy Leon trusted me and put me out here.”
Draper has long been seen as the future of the British men’s game, demonstrating why at the US Open when he reached the fourth round despite having little preparation because of a shoulder injury that kept him out for three months.
He was called into Smith’s squad the day after he lost in the last 16 to Russian eighth seed Andrey Rublev and pitched straight into the team on Wednesday against 74th-ranked Kokkinakis.
Kokkinakis, a big-hitter whose true potential has been hampered by a series of injuries, edged a tight opening set where serve dominated by hitting an ace on his second set point.
But Draper grew into the contest, continuing to serve well and causing more problems with his improved returning.
Two breaks of serve for the Briton took the match into a decider, where his serve came under no pressure until Kokkinakis broke for 5-4 and served for the match.
However, the Australian could not hold his nerve as Draper levelled before fighting back from 4-2 down in the tie-break to settle a tense encounter.