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Path to last four is built of Italian clay

ANDY MURRAY could not wait to get back home and spend some quality time with his loved ones. Emotionally spent and exhausted, the Scot was no doubt looking forward to some down time with his girlfriend Kim Sears and his beloved pets after what has been a hectic couple of months.

Colin Fleming, Dominic Inglot, James Ward, Andy Murray and captain Leon Smith  after defeating USA. Picture: Reuters
Colin Fleming, Dominic Inglot, James Ward, Andy Murray and captain Leon Smith after defeating USA. Picture: Reuters

Returning from back surgery was always going to be tough on body and mind so Murray deserves credit for recovering from the Australian Open quarter-final loss to Roger Federer quickly enough to help Great Britain secure an historic - and ultimately emphatic - Davis Cup win over the United States.

When the celebrations finally died down, though, Murray was turning his attentions to a trip to face Italy in April for a place in the semi-finals.

Providing he is fully fit - the next tie comes just days after the Sony Open in Miami - the Wimbledon champion will make himself available to Leon Smith, the GB captain, who is also justifiably basking in the afterglow of a superb few days' work in San Diego.

It promises to be a hostile, difficult encounter on what is certain to be a truer clay surface than the one which was hastily built at the San Diego Padres baseball stadium.

Murray is up for the challenge. He showed here that moving from hard courts to clay is a viable plan of action. "The one thing that has hurt me a bit in the clay court season in the last few years is that I haven't played any clay court tennis at all for like ten-and-a-half months from the French Open," admitted Murray.

"This time I've played a tie against Croatia, [and] I've played the tie here. Then the tie against Italy, provided I am healthy and get selected. In many ways it will be a good challenge there.

"The crowd will be very tough. I've played against the Italians in Italy before and they are a tough crowd and they are very passionate. It will be a good test of character for everyone. Right now, though, I'm just looking forward to going home and seeing Kim and the dogs. I won't leave the house for a few days."

The Italians, boasting two strong singles players in world No.15 Fabio Fognini and No.31 Andreas Seppi, as well as a strong doubles pairing of Fognini and Simone Bolelli, will be a far sterner test than a USA side which was still reeling from the loss of John Isner in the build-up.

Murray added: "I played Fognini in Monte Carlo a few years ago and won against him. I've played Seppi in Rome on the clay as well and beat him. They are winnable matches. But Fognini is playing really well just now. He's very close to being a top-10 player soon. He's very talented, very quick.

"He's an interesting character. I've known him since we were like 12. His parents used to always come and watch. He's always been a bit of a showman. Now we're starting to see how good his tennis is.

"His head is screwed on now and he's doing really well. Playing Italy on the clay, that is their best surface. Playing the States here is not their best surface.

"Winning gives everyone confidence but it will be different playing against them there. A different court, different conditions. I'm sure they will make the court slower than it was here [San Diego]. That's obviously where they are most comfortable, so it will be a tough match."

It has been 35 years since a Great Britain team reached the final of the Davis Cup but Murray was keen to try to dampen expectations, no matter how euphoric the impressive win over USA felt.

"It's tough winning the Davis Cup; [it] depends on a lot of things," Murray said. "The ties home and away are tough because the opposition are at a significant advantage before a ball has been struck. The next one will be very very tough.

"Their players are more suited to the clay court, so I'll just concentrate on that one. I don't even know who's in our half, Switzerland? They've got some good players, so let's not get carried away."

Smith, the team captain, has done a superb job of rescuing a side who were in danger of slumping right to the bottom of the heap before orchestrating a turnaround which has resulted in British men's tennis rising through the ranks with encouraging speed.

Naturally, without Murray, a place in the World Group would be the wildest of pipe dreams but Smith is hoping triumphs like the one witnessed here can galvanize the likes of James Ward, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund to raise their games to a level consistent enough to trouble the top players on a regular basis.

"It would still be an upset because of the players they will have at their disposal and, until we are able to have a fully-established No.2 player who is regularly playing tour tennis, regularly playing at slams, we will always go into ties with a tough task," conceded Smith.

"Yes, James [Ward who beat Sam Querrey in five sets on the opening day] caused a great upset here and has done so in the past, but you can't keep relying on upsets.

"We have to keep working hard with the likes of Dan, James, Kyle to try and get at least one of them as an established tour player.

"Much of it will come down to just how much they will want it. That said, [in] the last few ties we have shown that we can win and Davis Cup is a little bit different; you can often balance the ranking deficit or the level.

"We have seen this weekend [that] James' level doesn't quite match his ranking. Same with Dan but that is as much to do with how much they want it and how much they want to make a living for themselves."

They only need to take a look towards to Murray to see what hard work can achieve.

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