(Updates with Switzerland exit)
LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s brief reign as Davis Cup holders was swiftly ended when they paid the inevitable price for fielding a second-string team and lost 3-2 to Belgium in the first round in Liege on Sunday.
Just over three months since Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka drove them to an historic title in Lille, it was a different story without their big two as the Swiss became the first champions in 10 years to fall at the first hurdle.
Federer and Wawrinka had chosen to stand aside after achieving their ambitions and the stand-ins were not able to upset the odds against much higher-ranked players despite a heroic effort from 22-year-old Henri Laaksonen.
The world number 344, who previously played for Finland, levelled the tie at 2-2 with a 6-3 3-6 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-1 win over Steve Darcis, a player ranked 242 places higher.
For the second time in three days, the remarkable Laaksonen fought back to prevail in a five-setter.
Switzerland’s hopes, though, were extinguished in the deciding rubber when David Goffin, the world number 21 who was rested on Friday because of concerns over a back injury, proved too good for number 321 Adrien Bossel and won 6-4 6-0 6-4.
For the second year running Andy Murray led Britain to a first-round victory over the United States when he beat John Isner 7-6 (4) 6-3 7-6 (4) in Glasgow.
The former Wimbledon champion survived some early scares against the big-serving American before taking charge to steer Britain into an unassailable 3-1 lead.
In the quarter-finals they face a home tie against France who beat Germany with a day to spare.
“It’s been incredible the whole week. To be in the quarter-finals for the second time in a row is a credit to everyone,” said world number five Murray who revelled in front of a Scottish crowd.
Isner, beaten in five sets by British number two James Ward on Friday, had three set points in the opener but could not convert and despite some fierce resistance in the third set he could not keep the 32-times champions alive.
Italy, who beat Britain in the quarter-finals last year, went down to Kazakhstan in Astana where Aleksandr Nedovyesov, ranked 130th in the world, stunned number 22 Fabio Fognini in five sets to seal a 3-2 victory.
Kazakhstan next travel to former Davis Cup heavyweights Australia who enjoyed a 3-1 victory over 2012 and 2013 winners Czech Republic in Ostrava, Bernard Tomic clinching the win with a 7-6 (4) 6-3 7-6 (5) triumph over Lukas Rosol.
Australia are through to the last eight for the first time since 2006.
World number one Novak Djokovic’s Serbia crushed Croatia 5-0 and next take on Argentina or Brazil. (Reporting by Martyn Herman and Ian Chadband, editing by Justin Palmer)