Lloyds bank on success in Davis Cup

Britain's tennis future hangs in the balance. John Roberts reports from Eastbourne
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The Independent Online
Betting on Britain to win a Davis Cup tie can be akin to leaping off Beachy Head. David Lloyd, who makes his debut today as the team's captain, admits that he would be a pauper had he been tempted to wager on last year's match against Romania on grass: "I would have put my house on it, every tennis centre I own.''

Lloyd remains positively rich and positively optimistic. If ever there was a case for backing Britain, from the bookie round the corner to the casino in Monte Carlo, it would seem to be now, when they face Monaco in a relegation play-off at Devonshire Park. Nothing can go wrong - can it?

Six consecutive defeats have taken the nation to the brink of Group Three of the Euro-African Zone, which is as low as can be unless the International Tennis Federation decides to dig another pit at its meeting in Edinburgh this week.

Lloyd's first match is a holding operation before the long-term building process towards the 16-strong World Group. The opposition, which boasts only one representative with a world ranking (come in, No 924), played for the first time on grass - ever - when they started practising on Tuesday.

Fortunately, the millionaire players (Becker, Ivanisevic, et al) who could claim residential qualification have already played for their mother country. Ironically, the team's coach, Christophe Roger-Vasselin, won the British national Under-14 title on these courts. His mother is a Londoner.

History is on Britain's side, the previous two matches resulting in 5-0 victories, at Plymouth, in 1931, and Monte Carlo, in 1978. The only British player to lose sets against the Monegasques is Richard Lewis, now the Lawn Tennis Association's national director of training.

The Lloyds, David and his brother, John, who is coaching the team, both played in the 1978 tie, and the new skipper has demanded victory by love, love and love in every match.

It would appear, then, that Monaco are cannon fodder for Greg Rusedski's 137 mph serve to mark the British Canadian's Davis Cup debut. The 21-year- old Rusedski's last opponent was Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon. The man he meets in the opening rubber today, the unranked, 28-year-old Christophe Boggetti, has not played a single match on the ATP Tour this year.

Boggetti lost, 6-0, 6-0, to the Russian, Andrei Cherkasov, when given a wild card for the pre-qualifying event at the Monte Carlo Open, and he gleaned only seven games when losing two singles rubbers against Egypt in April.

Tim Henman, who played doubles against Romania and made his singles debut in the Slovak Republic, keeps his place, though Lloyd said he virtually closed his eyes and made an arbitrary choice between the Oxford man and Essex's Mark Petchey.Petchey will partner the South African-born Neil Broad in tomorrow's doubles, and ought therefore to have the satisfaction of helping to wrap up the tie.

Henman plays the second match today against Monaco's No 1, Sebastien Graeff, the man with the ranking. Graeff, aged 18, has experienced two previous ties, though he missed the 4-1 defeat by Egypt.

"The only thing that's important is to win, whatever the score," Rusedski said, unwilling to take anything for granted and expressing a few words of caution: "On grass, anything is possible".

Britain should win this one in two days, though your correspondent does not like the sound of Sebby Graeff.

Today (11am): G Rusedski v C Boggetti; T Henman v S Graeff. Tomorrow (2pm): N Broad and M Petchey v Graeff and Boggetti. Sunday (11am): Rusedski v Graeff; Henman v Boggetti.