Great Britain’s excellent Davis Cup run came to an end with a semi-final defeat by hosts Spain in Madrid.
Kyle Edmund gave Leon Smith’s team the perfect start by beating Feliciano Lopez – a very late substitute for Pablo Carreno Busta – 6-3 7-6 (3) at the Caja Magica but Dan Evans was unable to pull off a miracle as he went down 6-4 6-0 against Rafael Nadal.
That set the stage for a tense deciding doubles between Nadal and Lopez and the British pair of Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, who played superbly in wins over the Netherlands and Kazakhstan.
There was very little between the teams but it was the Spaniards who proved just the stronger in two tie-breaks, winning 7-6 (3) 7-6 (8).
Nadal is unbeaten in singles and doubles this week and will hope to guide his country to a first Davis Cup title since 2011 when they face Canada on Sunday.
The world number one has not lost a Davis Cup singles match since his debut in 2004, now winning 27 in a row, and, although Evans played brilliantly for nine games, that streak never looked like ending.
“I thought he was pretty good,” said Evans. “It doesn’t take a tennis expert to work out what happens after that, does it? Our mantra is to fight until the end. And I thought I did that pretty good.”
This time it was no surprise to see Andy Murray left on the bench after the performances of Edmund and Dan Evans in steering Britain to victory over Germany on Friday.
Evans praised the Scot, saying: “He’s not too big to sit on the side and support. He asked me today did I want him to warm me up. That’s the sort of guy he is.
“To sit it out, I’m sure it’s killing him inside and he probably isn’t that happy, but it doesn’t show.”
Murray clearly did not enjoy watching his brother – something he normally avoids – spending most of the match biting his nails or with head in hands.
Edmund had expected to face Carreno Busta only for Spain to make a switch just five minutes before the start because of a thigh injury.
The timing certainly raised eyebrows given rumours were circulating about the fitness of Carreno Busta on Friday evening, but Edmund was unfazed and powered to a 6-3 7-6 (3) victory.
He said afterwards: “Busta actually came to warm up, (he was) on the bike (for) two minutes, he left. I said straightaway, ‘Something is a bit weird there’. Then straightaway the guy came in.
“I think they knew what was going on but they just sort of went to the rules, they could do that. And yes, as soon as I found out, there’s no point trying to argue it, Feli is the guy I was playing.
“And I was good within myself, how I was feeling. I was just enjoying going out to the semi-finals of a Davis Cup against Spain. I knew it was going to be loud out there. And it almost, in a way, it didn’t matter who I was playing, I was just concentrating on being me first and putting myself out there.”
Evans was clear in his opinion it was gamesmanship, adding: “It’s a little naughty, I’d say. It didn’t work for them. I thought Kyle did an unbelievable job just dismantling him.”
Appeals by Murray and the British team and a through-the-night effort from the Lawn Tennis Association brought an extra 800 fans to Madrid for the clash.
The LTA invested more than £60,000 of the considerable prize money it will receive in purchasing tickets and then offering them free to any British supporters who could get to the Spanish capital.
The visiting fans were, of course, still heavily outnumbered in the 12,500-seat stadium – a big contrast from the small arenas in which Britain had played their first three matches.
If Spain had hoped the late change might disrupt the exceptional rhythm Edmund has been in all week, they were quickly disabused of that notion.
The Yorkshireman, who was on an eight-match losing run a few weeks ago, began the match with three aces and won eight of the first nine points to claim an immediate break of serve.
Lopez freed himself up as the match wore on and had two chances to claim the second set at 4-5 but Edmund brushed off the wall of noise to save them and was much the better player in the tie-break.
In the doubles, debutant Skupski once again acquitted himself superbly, while Jamie Murray’s exceptional net skills were to the fore.
They had fleeting chances – a break point at 5-5 in the opening set and a set point at 6-5 in the second after Lopez shanked a smash from on top of the net – but Nadal saved Spain both times.
The British pair also had three set points in the second-set tie-break, but Nadal was inspired.