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Davis Cup finals: Neal Skupski still on cloud nine after Great Britain's successful run in Madrid
Neal Skupski opens up about Davis Cup heartbreak, Leon Smith's captaincy and playing 'Cornhole' to pass the time in the evenings
Last Updated: 27/11/19 6:44am
Neal Skupski speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about his epic week in Madrid which saw Great Britain reach the semi-finals of the newly revamped Davis Cup.
Liverpudlian Skupski was the find of the week for captain Leon Smith after he and partner Jamie Murray helped the side to the final four where they fell to inspired Spanish duo Rafael Nadal and Feliciano Lopez.
Despite leaving Andy Murray on the bench for all but one match because of a lack of fitness, Britain came agonisingly close to emulating their historic success in 2015.
Skupski, who admits to being a man of few words, began the week by having to give an inauguration speech during a team meal at an Italian restaurant. It wasn't something he was exactly looking forward to.
"I knew in the past that any newbies had to give a speech because my brother [Ken] had done the same thing and he had warned me," Skupski told Sky Sports' Raz Mirza while in transit to America. "I didn't think it was going to happen the first night at dinner because it's normally done at an official dinner which would happen later on in the week. But then Leon Smith got up and asked me to say a few words.
"I think that was the worst part of the week. I'd rather play in front of twelve thousand people than have to give a speech.
"It wasn't the best speech at all!"
Skupski and Jamie Murray began playing together in early June and the partnership quickly blossomed as they reached the semi-finals of the US Open. As a result, they were called up to the Davis Cup squad, with Neal getting the nod ahead of Joe Salisbury.
The run in Madrid brought victories over the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Germany, showing the improved strength in depth the country now has.
Skupski and Jamie Murray were unable to take four set points in the second set of their clash against Spain, but there were no regrets for the 29-year-old Skupski, who came through the American collegiate system at Louisiana State University.
"You could tell that Nadal was inspired and he wanted to win that trophy so much," said Skupski. "He was playing superhuman tennis. The amount of times he came up clutch on big points was quite incredible really. I thought me and Jamie played a very good match.
"Nadal helped his partner Feliciano because he was starting to struggle towards the end of the match, but Nadal was so inspired. He carried Feliciano on his back and carried him over the line."
Playing the doubles as the deciding rubber has been one of the big successes of the new format but can also be an anxious time if you're playing in it for the first time.
He explained how the experience of Jamie Murray, doubles coach Louis Cayer and skipper Leon Smith helped massively calm the nerves.
"Jamie has played Davis Cup in the past, he's won massive matches and he's won Grand Slams so you get used to that kind of environment, but Louis Cayer and Leon Smith spoke to me before going on and said 'just relax, it's just another tennis match. Just don't think about anything else', so that helped me quite a bit.
"Then you got the team on the sidelines, like Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund and Andy Murray cheering you on so it's always going to inspire you to give it your all."
Andy Murray said he was not in his best shape after his wife Kim Sears gave birth to their third child, a baby boy, called Teddy but only got to play one match all week. Skupski explained the decision-making came down to Smith and not the three-time Grand Slam champion.
"When we played against Germany, Kyle Edmund stayed in the team so it was between Evans and Murray and Leon went with Evans. I'm not sure why and I don't know the reasons behind it, but it paid off. Obviously, you don't want to change a winning team so Leon kept the same team the next day, but no way did Andy say that he didn't want to play or he did want to play. It was always down to Leon Smith," said Skupski, who's current doubles ranking is world No 31.
"It wasn't like Andy had told us it was anything different or he said he was injured or there was something wrong with him. He always wanted to play."
During the evenings he makes sure that we're all together playing Cornhole. It sounds like a terrible game, but it can get quite rowdy.
Skupski went on to reveal that the team bonded over 'Cornhole' [a game in which players take turns throwing 16 ounce bags of corn kernels at a raised platform [board] with a hole in the far end].
He also paid tribute to Smith, while he now hopes to be a regular fixture in the Great Britain side.
"Smith keeps the team very happy," said Skupski. "He's not strict, but during the evenings he makes sure that we're all together playing Cornhole. It sounds like a terrible game, but it can get quite rowdy. We were playing that most nights, going for team dinners. The mood in the camp was so good. We all got along so well and I think that was down to Leon Smith."
He's now already looking forward to next year's edition of the Davis Cup Finals, despite the criticism the reformed competition has faced, and hopes it can come to Britain in the future.
"I call the Davis Cup the World Cup of tennis. I think Madrid put on a great event and I don't know many players that didn't like it," he added. "The experience was great, great locker rooms, amazing food. There were always going to be a few hiccups like the scheduling so that was a problem. I'm sure those teething problems will iron itself out.
"If it came to Britain, they would have to play it at different venues, which is what sports like Rugby, Football and Cricket do, so I don't see why it wouldn't work."