Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray traded psychological volleys as tensions rose on the eve of Australia’s Ashes-like Davis Cup semi-final with Great Britain.
The battleground as Britain chase a first Cup final appearance since 1978 is the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, as close as Murray will ever likely come to hosting such a crucial tie in his own back yard.
Hugely reliant on the Scottish world No.3, Murray will almost certainly need to win both his singles matches plus the doubles – if he’s able to back up – to keep alive Britain’s hopes of lifting the trophy for the first time in 77 years.
“A lot of the pressure is obviously on Andy,” said Hewitt, Australia’s spiritual leader and most prolific Davis Cup performer.
“Whoever gets the opportunity to take him on on day one really has nothing to lose.
“You can go out there free swinging and play your game while Andy pretty much has to win that match. It’s going to be a big rubber for them.”
Boasting a 23-from-25 singles strike rate in the competition and a commanding 15-0 head-to-head record over Australians, Murray shrugged off any feeling of stress.
He knows Hewitt, retiring after January’s Australian Open, is desperate to get his hands on the Davis Cup trophy one last time and suspects that may be weighing heavily on his teammates too.
“Everyone will be inspired this weekend, I imagine,” Murray said of his own lesser light teammates when asked whether the hosts held any concerns that Australia will lift to send Hewitt out a winner.
“It’s not about one individual. There’s nine or 10 players here who all have their part to play.
“Everyone, I’m expecting, is going to perform well. It’s hard not to when you play in an atmosphere like we will be playing in.”
Australian captain Wally Masur is set to pit teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis against Murray on Friday, with the higher-ranked Sam Groth almost certain to be saved for Saturday’s doubles with Hewitt.
Hewitt trusts whoever Masur pins his faith in.
“Grothy and I teamed very well under massive pressure and got it done in July (against Kazakhstan) so we are going to be ready for the battle all weekend,” he said.
Masur has until an hour before Thursday’s draw to formalise his line-up, and Kokkinakis is hungry for another chance after losing his opening match against the Kazakhs on grass in Darwin.
The slower indoor hardcourt surface will aid Kokkinakis’ chances against Murray, his good friend and regular practice partner.
“It would be an unbelievable atmosphere to play here,” Kokkinakis said.
“To play Andy first up, it’d be crazy, an unbelievable experience for me and hopefully I get the call up.”
Australian No.1 Bernard Tomic being a heavy favourite to beat either Kyle Edmund, James Ward or Dan Evans, a trio ranked between 100 and 300 in the world, in his opening singles match only adds to the pressure on Murray.
With Murray’s brother Jamie a certainty for the doubles, any points Great Britain collect may all come from Scots and possibly none from an Englishman.
But Hewitt said he was still fine with calling the bumper semi-final an Ashes encounter.
“In the past, their cricket team hasn’t had a lot of English either,” he said.
Victory over the Brits would vault Australia into either a home final against Argentina from November 27-29 or an away decider in Belgium.