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Murray sets up Italy clash
Great Britain can look forward to their biggest Davis Cup match for more than a quarter of a century after Andy Murray clinched a memorable victory over the United States.
The Wimbledon champion defeated Sam Querrey 7-6 (7/5) 6-7 (3/7) 6-1 6-3 on clay in San Diego to give Britain an unassailable 3-1 lead and a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986.
Their reward is another away tie, this time against Italy, who are sure to choose clay for the clash in early April.
That will be another uphill task for Britain, with Italy boasting top-35 duo Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi.
The sides have met 15 times before, Italy winning 11 of them, while Britain's only victory on Italian soil came in 1926 in Rome.
Murray has stated his intention to take part in all the ties, fitness permitting, and playing on clay in April should suit him well given he will be building up to the European clay-court season.
He told the BBC: "It's good for me to play on the clay. Often going into the clay season I haven't played any matches on it for 11 months. It'll be a tough match."
Murray extended his winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 17 by beating Querrey, but this tie is the first time he has played at the elite level of the competition.
The crucial victory came not from the Scot, though, but from world number 175 James Ward, who stunned Querrey in five sets on Friday.
It was typical of the performances under captain Leon Smith, who cannot boast the tennis pedigree of his USA counterpart Jim Courier but has consistently made inspired decisions.
When Smith, who was Murray's childhood coach, took over in 2010, Britain had just lost to Lithuania and were one defeat away from relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group III, the lowest tier of the competition.
They have lost just one match since, a particularly notable achievement given Murray has played only sparingly.
Smith's latest big call came on Thursday, when he opted for Ward over highly-rated teenager Kyle Edmund for the second singles spot alongside Murray.
All the indications had been Edmund would play, but Smith gave Ward a chance and the Londoner repaid him handsomely.
Ward is now in pole position for the Italy tie, although Edmund should again be in contention, while Smith will also consider Dan Evans.
Evans is the British number two and has produced some of his most inspired performances in Davis Cup but he struggles on clay and was left out of the team this time after going against Smith's wishes by declining to play in a tournament in Hawaii last week.
The captain celebrated on the court with his team, and he said: "It's been a massive team effort. We should be proud of our team spirit and what the guys have created."