These British Bulldogs Had Plenty Of Bite To The End

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The Battle Of The Brits came down to a winner-take-all decider on the final day at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, England, and it was a thriller.

Ahead 58-56 with five points up for grabs but needing 60 to cross the finish line, Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart, who represented the heart and soul of the British Bulldogs, had plenty of bite between them. Going up against Jamie Murray, the brainchild of the week-long competition, and Heather Watson, who was unbeatable in five singles matches, Salisbury and Dart had all the right stuff up their sleeves to win 6-4, 6-2 Sunday evening on Centre Court. Their mixed doubles victory clinched the team title over the Union Jacks, 63-56.

Earlier, Murray’s younger and better-known brother, Andy Murray, teamed with Naomi Broady to win the penultimate match that set up the deciding rubber. They defeated Kyle Edmund and Emma Raducanu, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Both Edmund and Raducanu had scored singles wins earlier Sunday that gave the British Bulldogs a comfortable lead before the Union Jacks began to chip away at it match by match, thanks in part to Watson’s 6-0, 6-2 win over Beth Grey.

The final day began with the team score tied at 45-all. However, with 29 points at stake, the British Bulldogs won six of the 10 matches played on Sunday that lifted them past the magical 60 to capture the BOTB trophy, with a different point value assigned to each match.

Earlier in the tournament, Salisbury and Dart overcame an 8-2 third-set tie-break to defeat Murray and Watson. So, it only seemed fitting that they would pull off their second big win over the pair, who leveled the tournament with an exciting win Saturday evening against Dart and Liam Broady that was decided by a 32-point tie-break final set.

“I can’t believe after all this tennis that we’ve had this week that it came down to the last match of the week,” said a giddy Salisbury during an on-court interview before the serious celebrating began during the trophy ceremony. “It was so much fun.

“The mixed doubles has been great all week. Everybody on the bench has been getting so into it, the support’s been amazing. So, it was a great finish to the week.”

Standing beside Salisbury was his partner in battle, Dart, who began her day with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) win over Jodie Burrage. She said, “Just happy with the performance and to go out with a win is just incredible. It was a great atmosphere and our team is amazing. Just so happy right now.”

Looking back on The Battle Of The Brits, tournament organizer Jamie Murray said, “It has been an amazing week, everything I thought it could be.”

The week-long tournament was designed by the 34-year-old Murray to provide a competitive environment for both established and up-and-coming British players while the pro tours remain suspended during the coronavirus lockdown. It also served as a family reunion of the Murray brothers with their mother, Judy Murray, who served as co-coach of the Union Jacks along with former British great turned broadcaster Greg Rusedski. Each team consisted of 13 players – seven men and six women and they played together in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

After British men’s No. 1 Dan Evans kept the Union Jacks’ hopes alive with his 7-5, 6-2 win over No. 552 Aidan McHugh on Court No. 1, he had a chance to reflect upon the week at Roehampton before heading off the join the rest of his teammates on their Centre Court backbench for the concluding matches. Evans was his team’s biggest cheerleader throughout the week.

“Events like this are perfect not just for the tour players but the younger players to get ready and get back out there,” said the 28th-ranked Evans. “Without these events none of us would be in such a good position and hopefully there should be some British success when we get back.” 

The winning British Bulldogs were co-coached by Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong and Davis Cup captain Leon Smith. Although they claimed their team was an underdog all week long, by the end of the final day they were in command and confident. After Salisbury and Dart claimed victory in the final match, they shared their thoughts on what it all meant to them as well as the state of British tennis.

Keothavong: “The whole week, every day, has been a lot of fun. A lot of tennis, a lot of tired people but it’s all been worthwhile.”

Smith: “It’s definitely another occasion that’s brough everyone together. There’s a really good feeling. There’s very good camaraderie across all British tennis which is really important.”