• What the Deuce

Murray provides the spark for Britain's Fed Cup charge

Jo Carter February 7, 2012

Andy Murray may be the best tennis player Britain has seen in generations, but thanks to his mum the British women are causing a stir.

In her first appointment as British Fed Cup captain, Judy Murray saw her side emerge from the Europe/Africa Group I event in Israel with the chance to return to the World Group stage for the first time since 1993.

They blazed through their three group matches, conceding just one rubber as they saw off Portugal, Netherlands and Israel, with British No. 1 Elena Baltacha pulling off a superb victory over world No. 37 Shahar Peer in front of a partisan crowd in Eilat.

Such was the dominance of the British singles players, with Baltacha unbeaten in four rubbers and Keothavong winning three, British youngsters Laura Robson and Heather Watson only played in one live doubles rubber. But when called upon, they delivered, winning a nail-biting encounter Kiki Bertens and Bibiane Schoofs 7-5 7-6(5) as Britain beat Netherlands 2-1.

Tennis is an inherently individual sport, and some players are better suited to team tennis than others. Other than her initiation performance, you would never have know that Robson was making her Fed Cup debut in Israel.

All Fed Cup rookies are required to perform at the official dinner as their initiation, and Robson relished the challenge. Singing in front of a room full of people is one thing, but rapping takes real guts. Not just any rap either, Sir Mix-a-Lot's 'Baby Got Back', no less.

This was definitely the most fun I've ever had in a Fed Cup week
Elena Baltacha

"This is my first year at Fed Cup, as my rookie dare I just rapped I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie in front of a large room full of people," Robson tweeted after the performance. When not showing their undoubted talent on the court, Robson and Watson took it upon themselves to be chief cheerleaders.

"Laura and Heather were brilliant in doubles and their win in the final rubber against Netherlands in our second match was absolutely massive for us," Baltacha told the BBC. "They were also a great cheer squad when they weren't playing, keeping us really pumped up by making up chants and banging rattles. They are both very happy, outgoing girls and they're really fun to be around.

"Laura even stood up and did a rap at the official dinner because all the rookies had to do a little performance this time rather than a speech - then she did it again on court during an interview, with Heather as her back-up dancer!"

Many of the Fed Cup captains are former players (American Mary Joe Fernandez and Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to name but two), but Murray's experience of elite tennis stems from her sons.

Laura Robson demonstrates her cheerleading skills as Murray offers encouragement from the sideline © Getty Images

But what she lacks in playing experience, she makes up for in other areas. A talented tennis coach (she instructed Andy until he was 11) and a superb motivator, as the son of former professional footballer Roy Erskine, she has sport in her blood.

Being female, she has a natural advantage over former captain Nigel Sears - she has instantly struck up a natural rapport with her team, and is reaping the benefits.

Granted, Murray is blessed with a promising squad. With Baltacha (57) and Keothavong (88) ranked inside the top 100, their experience is beautifully complemented by the youth of Watson and Robson, ranked at No. 106 and 118 respectively.

It is the strongest team Britain has boasted in a long time, and all four are quality singles players in their own right. But Murray has succeeded in creating a strong team spirit and it was clear to see the players were not just playing for themselves, but for Team GB.

Baltacha is playing in her 11th year of Fed Cup competition, but it speaks volumes of the atmosphere in the GB camp that Baltacha claimed it was the most fun she had ever had on international duty. "This was definitely the most fun I've ever had in a Fed Cup week," Baltacha said.

The team will learn next week (February 14) who stands between them and a place in the World Group, but a home tie will give Britain's women an opportunity to play on home soil for the first time in 19 years.

Can Murray's girls bring it home?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk