Rusedski gets ball rolling for Britain

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The Independent Online
So far, so good. Britain's Davis Cup team put themselves on the brink of promotion from the Euro-African second division yesterday as Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski earned straight-sets victories in the opening singles against Egypt.

If Neil Broad and Mark Petchey win their doubles match today, Britain will be contending next year for entry to the World Group of the top 16 nations.

An absorbing, rather than arousing day's competition - distressingly interrupted by the collapse of an elderly spectator with a suspected heart attack - was witnessed by a crowd of around 6,000. Many of them were no doubt drawn by the sentimental opportunity of witnessing the last competitive action on the No 1 court before it is demolished.

The 72-year-old court's natural intimacy was enhanced by the sense that it was the sole attraction on a day overcast enough to have the press photographers frowning at their light meters and chilly enough for most of the 6,000 or so spectators to have come equipped with overcoats and blankets.

There was, thankfully, no call for the many umbrellas which had also been brought along following recent weather reports.

No distant thunders of applause came from neighbouring courts. Between points, more often than not, the only sounds were the lanyards ringing hollowly on the flagpoles at the top of the stand, and hammering echoes from the new No 1 court which is being completed in time for next summer's All England Championships.

Henman, who was returning to competition after injuring himself in the US Open, will be assured of a huge reception when he returns here next July. There was a sense of genuine excitement when he appeared yesterday, and he performed satisfactorily, despite the occasional lapse of concentration in a 6-0, 6-4, 7-5 win over 22-year-old Amr Ghoneim, an opponent ranked 489 places below him.

Considering it was Ghoneim's first serious match on grass, he did astonishingly well, and had Henman in real trouble at 3-5 and set point down in the third. But the 22-year-old from Oxford responded to the challenge, breaking back and then winning the next three games.

Comparing Davis Cup experiences with some of the players he now mixes with is uncomfortable for Henman. "When they hear that we are playing in division two it's embarrassing given the standard of team we have now," he said. "That's why we are very anxious to get out of this position to where we belong.''

Rusedski had the harder task on paper, facing the top Egyptian Tamar El Sawy, ranked 174th in the world. The 24-year-old has played Davis Cup since he was 16, and last year he beat Karol Kucera, the Slovakian ranked 100 places above him.

But El Sawy's only experience on grass has been in Wimbledon qualifying tournaments; Rusedski, on the other hand, thrives on the surface, and he soon acquainted his opponent with his serve-and-volley game, beginning his first two service games with two aces.

With the score at 2-2 in the first set, both players left the court for nearly three quarters of an hour as medics attended to the stricken spectator in the north stand.

On their return, Rusedski took command, winning the next four games to take the first set 6-2. The next set was relatively straightforward, as he won 6-4, and when El Sawy double faulted to go 6-5 down in the third set, the match was effectively over.

The Egyptian pair's hopes today were looking even less healthy as Ghoneim finished the day requiring an ice pack on a damaged racket hand.

DAVIS EURO-AFRICA ZONE Second Division (Wimbledon): G Rusedski (GB) bt T El Sawy (Eg) 6-2 6-4 7-5; T Henman (GB) bt A Ghoneim (Eg) 6-0 6-4 7- 5. Britain lead 2-0.