“Priceless” Andy Murray elevates Great Britain’s Davis Cup team to another level, according to captain Leon Smith.
The former world number one is back in the side for the first time since 2016 for the revamped finals week at Madrid’s Caja Magica.
Smith insists he has not yet decided which of his three singles players – Murray, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund – will fill the two spots available, but Murray will surely be the first name on the team sheet.
The 32-year-old won an ATP Tour title in Antwerp last month only nine months after career-saving hip surgery and, despite being ranked lower than Evans or Edmund, is clearly Britain’s trump card.
Kazakhstan captain Dias Doskarayev, whose team play Britain on Thursday, said there was an “extra buzz” in his country because of Murray’s presence in the group.
Smith said: “You’re bringing in someone that’s a grand slam winner, Davis Cup winner, Olympic gold winner, former number one.
“And he’s still a very, very good tennis player. He’s just won a tour title again. If you look at his performances even leading up to Antwerp, he’s pushing the top-20 guys again. And then at the same time you realise what he’s gone through, so it just gives everyone a huge lift.
“And then you have someone like that in your team room. OK, the friendship and the fun is always going to be there but, when you start talking about things, when you start talking about his matches and the experience he talks about – someone giving over that experience to other players is priceless, isn’t it?”
Despite his individual achievements, it has always been clear just how much Murray enjoys the team environment and especially Davis Cup.
Driving Britain to victory in the competition in 2015 remains arguably his greatest moment and he relishes being ‘one of the guys’.
Days after winning his second Wimbledon title in 2016, Murray could be found picking up balls and collecting water bottles for his team-mates in Serbia, having decided to take a watching brief.
“You have a player who’s achieved a hell of a lot in the game but there’s no ego,” said Smith when asked how easy it was to integrate Murray back into the team.
“You just see him walking round, everyone’s so pleased to see him back. When he comes in, everyone gets a huge boost. Yes he’s a superstar but he doesn’t act like a superstar.
“If he has to be the one that’s practising – it’s a very good bubble court – but if it’s on the bubble court, there’s no issue. He’s a normal guy that just loves doing what he’s doing. He’s back in the team with his friends and that’s it. It’s a really great situation to be in.”
Britain have to wait until Wednesday to play their first match against Holland.
Under the new format, 18 teams will initially compete across six groups, with the group winners and the two best runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals.
Each tie will consist of two singles matches and one doubles and will be played over best-of-three sets instead of best of five.
Making the last eight should be a minimum expectation for Britain, with Smith acknowledging the draw has been exceptionally kind given the strength of some of the other groups.
Kazakhstan’s top-ranked player is Alexander Bublik at 57, while Holland do not have a singles player in the world’s top 150.
Doskarayev and Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis were only too keen to stress what big favourites Britain are, but Smith cited his own team’s exploits as a reason for caution.
He said: “I think with the format now, it’s a very open competition. When people probably looked at this group realistically, compared to the other groups, I think all three teams will think they’ve got a good opportunity to do something.
“I think we’re very lucky to have three very good singles players and really good doubles options, so I’ve got a few things to ponder over the next couple of days but it’s a good situation to be in.
“It’s not that long (ago) when it wasn’t like this and the guys all stepped up even though they were ranked 270, 300, 400. It can happen. And that’s why also we pay a huge amount of respect to any opposition.”