Britons hit new low

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The Independent Online
AS WAS feared, David Lloyd will have to begin his campaign as Britain's Davis Cup captain with a relegation play-off against either Monaco or Egypt at Eastbourne in July.

Lloyd, who is to take over the captaincy from Bill Knight, was a spectator here as the team was beaten in two days by the Slovak Republic. The doubles partnership of Tim Henman and Neil Broad, playing together for the first time, was unable to stretch the tie further, losing in five sets to Karol Kucera and Jan Kroslak.

The grass courts of Devonshire Park will come as a welcome relief after another difficult time on European clay here, though Lloyd no doubt would have preferred to have been coaxing the team back towards a place in the 16-strong World Group rather than trying to avert an ignominous slide into Group Three of the Euro-African zone, the lowest point of the competition.

As was the case on Friday, when Henman and Miles Maclagan both lost in four sets when making their singles debuts, there was no lack of spirit from the Britons yesterday. Unfortunately, the players were again lacking at the crucial moments.

Henman and Broad, the team's South African-born doubles specialist, were defeated 3-6 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-2 in two hours and 50 minutes after dominating the opening set in a manner that suggested that they would keep the tie alive for another day.

They could hardly have made a more promising start, moving confidently into a 4-0 lead and allowing their opponents only three points from the first 19. They also managed to overcome the first hint of crisis, when Henman's serve wavered at 5-2.

Although the Oxford man was broken after double-faulting on his second set point, he made amends in the next game. Kroslak was unnerved when Broad beat him with a forehand drive on his first game point at 3-5, and the Slovakian directed a forehand over the baseline from Henman's service return.

Events began to change for the worst for Britain after they had held a break point for 2-0 in the second set. The opportunity was created by a touch of luck, Broad's forehand clipping the net, and the Slovakians were relieved when Henman hit a block-volley over the baseline.

Broad lost his serve in the fifth game, mishitting a backhand after Kucera had created a break point by driving the ball at his body. The Slovakians required only one set point in levelling the match after 72 minutes.

A lull settled over the proceedings during the first six games of the third set, with neither side prepared to put pressure on the other. Eventually, Broad cracked and the Slovakians took a 4-3 lead. The crux of this was Broad's decision to allow a return from Kucera to pass by, only to see the ball land in the corner of the court.

Though Britain retrieved the break, the Slovakians went on to win the set, Kucera breaking Henman's serve and then holding his nerve after being taken to deuce in the closing game.

Few rated Britain's chances of extending the match after Broad had been broken at the start of the fourth set, but Kucera lost his serve for 2- 2 and for an encouraging time confidence returned to the British camp.

This, however, drained away when Broad was broken for the fourth time in the match at the start of the final set, and when Henman double-faulted when serving at 4-2, Lloyd began planning for the challenges which lie ahead.