Djokovic battled back to beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, and tied the series 2-2.
British captain Leon Smith confirmed on Friday the plan was for Andy Murray to play instead of Dom Inglot provided there were no ill effects from his first competitive match for more than a month.
Before the tie with Japan, Murray had not played since losing the Australian Open Final to Djokovic in January as he made a decision to take time off after his wife, Kim, gave birth to their first child, Sophie.
Serbia fell behind Kazakhstan on Saturday 2-1 but rallied back Sunday and started the day with an exciting five set match staring the world’s number one tennis player: Novak Djokovic.
“I do think it was a really good effort to come through that”, said the 28-year-old, “after going down a break at the beginning of the fifth, and how I was feeling physically as well”.
“We were trying, fighting, I believe we could have played better …”
That is followed in quick succession by a Masters tournament in Canada, the Olympics – where Murray could play singles, doubles and mixed doubles – another Masters in Cincinnati, the US Open and a potential Davis Cup semi-final.
Attention has already turned to Britain’s next opponents, Serbia, and the prospect of a mouth-watering clash between Murray and Djokovic in Belgrade just a week after Wimbledon.
Even so Djokovic, the world number one, was pushed to the limit by Kukushkin, a player ranked 78 places below the 11 Grand Slam Champion. In the fifth I went back to what I was doing in the first.
In the end, though, it was Murray who broke first, and though he was broken back, he began hitting the ball so spitefully that Nishikori struggled to take the pace off enough to stop the ball going long. While the motivation of Djokovic is hard to second guess, a match-up with Murray would be the first ever among the so-called “big four” of men’s tennis and the World No 2 has a hunch that Serbia will want it played on a hard court.
With a 2-1 lead, a win by Murray against world No6 Kei Nishikori would take GB into the quarters, but this was no easy contest.
A fizzing forehand return victor won a spectacular game for 4-2, making it five breaks in six games, and Murray held on in two epic service games to seal the win.
But by overpowering the stubborn Nishikori and helping Great Britain reach the quarter-final for a third straight year, Murray overtook Fred Perry’s winning sequence of 14 consecutive Davis Cup points in both singles and doubles. “But I was a little bit calmer in the fifth set”.
Viktor Troicki, the world number 23, then saw off Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-2 6-3 6-4 in the deciding rubber.
“[The Serbia tie will be a] tough match away from home”, said Murray.
Victory, achieved through Isner’s 49th ace of the match, marked a first win for the Americans over Australia since 1997 and first Down Under since 1982. “Obviously the next match will be extremely tough and if we stick together and fight we have a chance”. “And if someone isn’t ready like Tomas today we try to do our best – this is important to have really good teammates”. The Czech Republic next faces France in July’s quarterfinals as it bids for its third title in five years.