Belgians hope clay slows Murray in Davis Cup final
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The venue for the 2015 Davis Cup final was announced on Wednesday. Ghent will host the showdown between Belgium and Britain after the teams came through last weekend's semi-finals against Argentina and Australia respectively. It will be a contest between two of the unlikeliest protagonists.
Belgium's tennis chiefs opted to get dirty on Wednesday in their attempt to win the Davis Cup for the first time.
The country's tennis federation chose to stage the final against Great Britain on a clay court at the Flanders Expo in Ghent.
On the tennis circuit, clay is often referred to as "the dirt" in contrast to the faster surfaces of hard and grass courts.
The Belgians played on a hard court in their semi-final victory over Argentina last weekend. That was another tactical choice as Argentines are traditionally more familiar with clay courts.
The thinking with the Belgians is that clay will provide a possibility of neutralising Britain's Andy Murray who has been in inspirational form leading his country to its first final since 1978.
In the quarter-final against France, the 28-year-old world number three won his opening singles match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He then teamed up with his elder brother, Jamie, to claim the doubles point. On the third day of the tie, he came from a set down to beat Gilles Simon and secure passage to the semi-final.
Last weekend in Glasgow, Murray - despite a sore back - again played and won three matches in three days as the Australians were dispatched 3-2.
"So Ghent on the Clay for the davis cup final ...very pumped!" wrote Andy Murray on Twitter when the venue was announced. "Think clay is a good surface for us looking forward to it."
Ghent is the third largest city in Belgium. It has hosted big events such as a Tour de France stage in 2007 and the gymnastics world championships in 2001 and 2013.
"The final is being seen as Belgium versus Andy Murray," said Yves Simon, tennis correspondent for Sud Presse in Belgium.
"The players here are speaking like that. If Andy does play three matches it will be tough for the Belgians because they've seen what he did against France and Australia. He has played so well in the Davis Cup. They also have a lot of respect for the other players in the British team; But the team and Belgian tennis fans know that it's Belgium v Andy Murray."
On Tuesday Murray became embroiled in a row with the ATP - the sport's main administrators.
He said if clay were chosen for the final, he might skip the season ending championships which are played a week before the Davis Cup on a hard court at the O2 Arena in London. He said he would prefer to do that and miss a possible 1 million euro payday in order to be fully prepared for the Davis Cup.
"For me to play - if I was to reach the ATP Tour final - five in a row and then take a couple of days off, it would mean only playing for two days on the clay before the Davis Cup final starts and that wouldn't be enough for me," he said.
But the ATP was quick to slap down such patriotic self-sacrifice. It said he is required to play in the eight-man season finale unless injured.
Administrators cited last year's events when the Swiss duo Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer played at the O2 before heading to France to play in the Davis Cup final.
After beating his compatriot in a tetchy semi-final, Federer withdrew from the final against Novak Djokovic through injury. He was still diminished when he lost to Gael Monfils during the first day of the final.
Fortunately for the Swiss, Wawrinka had been on form earlier beating Tsonga. On the second day, sustained by Wawrinka in the doubles, Federer was getting back into his groove in the victory over the French pair of Julein Benneteau and Richard Gasquet. On Sunday, Federer had recovered his full prowess to thrash Gasquet in straight sets and secure the all important third point for Switzerland's first triumph in the competition.
Murray has no such back-up within the British team even though he unflinchingly hails the importance of the collective. After seeing off Australia's Bernard Tomic on Sunday, Murray said: "Everyone's played their part in the team and I'm glad that I've been able to finish it off."
In the 1904 final, Belgium were finished off with ease. it ended 5-0 to the British. But back then they were on the green, green grass of home.
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