Andy Murray sparked a British Davis Cup quarter-final revival by pulling his team level with France as crisis-hit 28-time champions Australia slumped to a new low.
World No.3 Murray, the only top-10 player on duty in the quarter-finals, kept Great Britain in the hunt for their first semi-final place in 34 years as he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5 7-6 (12/10) 6-2.
Murray was under pressure to win the second rubber of the day on the grass courts of Queen’s Club in west London after Gilles Simon had given last year’s runners-up France the perfect start with a 6-4 6-4 6-1 rout of James Ward.
Murray’s victory – his 11th in 13 meetings with Tsonga and his 22nd in 24 career Davis Cup singles rubbers – also raised the possibility that he might play alongside brother Jamie instead of Dominic Inglot in Saturday’s key doubles.
“I always want to play, but I’ve had a long few months,” said Murray, playing for the first time since his Wimbledon semi-final loss to Roger Federer seven days ago.
“It’s about doing what is best for us to win the tie and also about being fresh for Sunday (reverse singles).”
In September’s semi-finals, the winners are likely to face Kazakhstan who piled on the problems for Australia in hot and steamy Darwin by opening a 2-0 lead.
Mikhail Kukushkin swept to a 6-4 6-3 6-3 win over teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis in just over two hours.
World No.115 Aleksandr Nedovyesov then stunned 41-ranked Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (2/7) 7-6 (7/5) 6-4 to put Kazakhstan on the brink of reaching the semi-finals for the first time.
Kyrgios, who was heavily criticised amid claims of “tanking” during his fourth-round loss to Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon, and also for arguing with umpires and sarcasm during his press conferences, admitted the loss had left him drained.
“Physically, I felt OK. I felt like my body was good. But mentally, I almost felt a bit drained out there,” Kyrgios said.
In Ostend, Steve Darcis and David Goffin gave Belgium a 2-0 lead over Canada.
Darcis saw off world No.272 Frank Dancevic 3-6 6-1 7-5, 6-3 before world No.14 Goffin swept past Filip Peliwo, ranked 491, in straight sets 6-4 6-4 6-2.
Belgium are well-placed to make the semi-finals for the first time since 1999, while Canada were already hamstrung by playing without their top two singles players, eighth-ranked Milos Raonic, who has yet to fully recover from a foot injury, and Wimbledon quarter-finalist Vasek Pospisil.
The winners will face either Argentina or Serbia for a place in the final.
Serbia, the 2010 champions, are without world No.1 and recently-crowned Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic who opted to rest rather than travel to Buenos Aires.
Four-time runners-up Argentina capitalised on his absence with Leonardo Mayer, the world 22, seeing off 87th-ranked Filip Krajinovic 6-4 6-2 6-1.