Britain break bad habit

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The Independent Online
THE HEALING process has begun. After six successive defeats had taken Great Britain to previously uncharted depths in the world game, the nation's tennis players finally won a Davis Cup tie yesterday.

True, the opposition wasn't up to much. But in taking a winning 3-0 lead over Monaco thanks to a 6-4 6-0 7-6 victory in the doubles by Neil Broad and Mark Petchey, Britain made sure they at least retained their place in the Euro/African Zone Group II - effectively the third division of the world game - from where they will be looking to build when they return to Davis Cup competition next year.

The last time Britain won a Davis Cup match was in 1991 against Austria. The last time they won 5-0 was against Portugal in 1985. The challenge left today will be to match that performance when Greg Rusedski, making his debut for his new country, and Tim Henman play the remaining two singles matches. They will surely succeed.

Thus David Lloyd's tenure as captain has got off to the start he wanted. "The whole week's been very easy for me," he said, "because everyone's given 100 per cent, more than 100 per cent. Not just the players, but everyone involved in the team. Davis Cup is something different. You get some funny results. We were on a hiding to nothing here. If we'd lost or even dropped sets we'd have been crucified. But to win nine straight sets, you can't do much better than that."

In giving Great Britain a 2-0 lead overnight, Friday's straight-sets wins in the opening singles by Rusedski and Henman had gone so much according to plan that the doubles, in which Broad and Petchey took on Sebastien Graeff and Christophe Boggetti, looked as if it would be a formality. But to begin with, at any rate, it was anything but.

There is something about representing your country, particularly in an individual sport like tennis, that seems to bring out the nervous worst in certain players. Petchey is one who tends to suffer from this, having gone to pieces in last year's home defeat by Romania, and on his return to the side picked up where he left off.

Petchey's first service game, at 1-2 in the opening set, saw him at his most erratic. Two dreadful volleys helped Monaco to 15-40, at which point he served a double fault. It was the first time in the tie that Monaco had broken serve. Luckily for Petchey, his doubles specialist partner proved a steadying influence, anticipating most things at the net, and setting up the point from which Britain broke back in the next game with a forehand down the middle.

For a while, the Monegasques continued to prove a match for the British, in spite of their lack of experience on grass - none of their team had ever set foot on the stuff before last Tuesday. But with their highest- ranked player, the 18-year-old Graeff, coming in at a dizzy 920, it was never going to last. At 4-4 Graeff was broken when Petchey, now over the worst and beginning to return well, forced an error on the backhand.

Even then the British pair made heavy weather of closing out the first set, Broad serving a double fault to give Monaco the first of three break points. But they finally clinched it when the angular Boggetti hit a return long.

The second set was when Britain's theoretical advantage was put properly into practice when they ran through it without dropping a game, and it looked as if the crowd's pleasant afternoon in the Eastbourne sunshine was going to be somewhat abbreviated. But Monaco were not finished yet. They stuck at it, surviving six break points - Britain managing to lose one game from a 0-40 advantage - to take the set to a tie-break.

The first point Monaco won in the tie-break was also their last, however. Broad played a superb series of volleys to claim a mini-break at 1-2 on Boggetti's serve, and the match, after an hour and 42 minutes, was decided when Graeff hit a backhand wide. Petchey put his errors more down to the gusting wind than anything else. "But in your first set in your first match, you want to do well. I was a little bit tight."

British tennis does at last seem to be on the upturn. There was the Rusedski effect, some promising performances at Wimbledon, and today's final in the Bristol Challenger will be contested by two Brits - Jeremy Bates and Andrew Foster. But is that how Lloyd sees it?

"In the last few weeks everyone's played well," he said. "But we've got to look not just at the weeks that are around Wimbledon when we are at an advantage on the grass. We really have to look beyond. But I do see more grounds for optimism. The more people win, the more people will want to win."