Broad base for Britain

Simon O'Hagan looks at the imports who could lead a Davis Cup revival
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The Independent Online
HE GREW up thousands of miles away, in a land of the great outdoors where he could freely indulge his passion for tennis. The life suited him. He turned into a strapping lad, who lived for his sport. Then one day he came to Britain. He had a family connection here which gave him dual nationality. He liked the place. And he realised that this was who he wanted to play tennis for.

Thus it is that when Great Britain meet Monaco in the Davis Cup at Eastbourne next weekend, the man who could help clinch victory for them is, of course, Neil Broad. I beg your pardon? Greg Rusedski, yes. But Neil Broad?

In the clamour that has accompanied Rusedski's arrival on the British scene, a small fact has been forgotten: there is nothing new in Britain's Davis Cup team's being represented by someone born and brought up elsewhere. Broad was doing so long before anyone outside Montreal had heard of Rusedski.

Broad is 28 and originally from South Africa. He became eligible for Great Britain in 1990 and made his Davis Cup debut in 1992. He has played three times in all. But as a doubles specialist who doesn't even have a singles ranking, Broad's name means very little in the wider world.

That may change next Saturday when in all likelihood Broad will partner Mark Petchey in the third of the five matches against Monaco. Assuming Rusedski and Tim Henman, the other members of Britain's team, have won their opening singles on Friday, then Broad and Petchey's match could bring Britain the victory that would mark their first step back towards tennis credibility.

Britain are certainly geared up for it. They have a new captain in David Lloyd, a new coach in Lloyd's brother, John, and a new star player in Rusedski. The presence of Henman enhances the sense of rejuvenation surrounding the team. None of them can wait to get the car out of reverse and start zooming forwards, with Monaco almost certain to get squashed on the way.

The message from Lloyd is clear: the rot stops here, the here in question being a Europe/ Africa Zonal Group II relegation play-off, better expressed as the bottom of the third division of world tennis, the lowest level to which Britain have sunk in the competition's 95-year history.

Lloyd's appointment at the start of the year was a case of: "If you think you're so good, you try doing it". A long-time critic of the Lawn Tennis Association and its failure to produce winners in spite of the millions at its disposal, he is a little general who has already met Napoleon's first requirement. In Lloyd's case, the luck came in the shape of Rusedski, on the back of whose walloping serve the British game can now reasonably hope to start travelling in the right direction. Having lost their last three matches, to Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, defeat against Monaco might leave Rusedski wondering whether he wouldn't have been better off becoming a Quebec fur-trapper rather than the would-be saviour of the British game.

If Monaco were able to call on their resident tax exiles (most of the leading Swedes have homes there, as well as Boris Becker, Thomas Muster, Jacco Eltingh and numerous other top players), they would be pretty useful. As it is, they have had to entrust their hopes in an 18-year-old ranked 924 in the world - Sebastien Graeff - and two players who have no world ranking, Christophe Bogio, also 18, and Christophe Boggetti, aged 28. By comparison, Rusedski's ranking is 60, Petchey's 122, and Henman's 174.

The advantage that Eastbourne's grass will give Britain - the Monegasques are pure clay-courters - means that only one result seems possible. Rusedski and Henman both go into the tie having played well at Wimbledon, and Petchey, in spite of losing in the first round, is a fine grass-court player when his confidence is right.

Brits in almost any sport are apt to point out that there are no easy matches any more, and very often they are right. But Lloyd is looking not just to win but to win well. "We've got to really show what we can do," he says. "We've got to get some pride back and be positive." For Rusedski, the responsibilities were never going to end with a quick wave of the Union Jack on Centre Court. He has become a self-styled pied piper who knows that the procession he plans to lead has a long way to go, and takes in other, less glamorous stopping-off points. The Sussex coast is the first of many.