Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori both won their 12th straight match in the Davis Cup to leave titleholder Britain and Japan tied at 1-1 in the first round on Friday.
Playing his first match in nearly five weeks and since becoming a father, Murray displayed some rustiness in easily beating Taro Daniel 6-1 6-3 6-1 to successfully launch Britain’s defence of the cup on an indoor court in Birmingham.
Nishikori had it much tougher in the second singles match before finally putting away 157th-ranked Dan Evans 6-3 7-5 7-6 (7-3).
The doubles is on Saturday and Murray has indicated he could play with his brother Jamie.
Murray hadn’t played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final on January 31.
Britain beat Belgium in November for its first Davis Cup title in 79 years, and Murray scored the winning point in the final to go through the whole campaign unbeaten.
Murray has committed to the Davis Cup again this season, despite it being a busy schedule because of the Olympic Games, and he started the victory over Daniel – ranked No.87 – by winning the first 11 points of the match.
Daniel, who is half-American, took advantage of Murray’s lack of recent competitive play to make a contest out of the second set, which went with serve until Murray broke in the seventh game.
Murray sealed the match with an ace, and didn’t drop serve.
“The second and third sets were tough,” Murray said.
“I haven’t played for a long time. I was a little bit out of breath.”
Nishikori’s unbeaten run in the Davis Cup dates back four years and it was never seriously in doubt against Evans, whose form has improved since last year when his ranking dropped below 700 in the world.
Evans, a late injury replacement for Kyle Edmund and playing in his home town, had won their only previous meeting but it was an uphill battle from the moment Nishikori won the first set on his sixth set point.
Evans made a double-fault to drop the second set and never led in the third-set tiebreaker, in which Nishikori won the last three points.
The winner of the match will play either Kazakhstan or Serbia in July.