Tennis: Bates and Britain aim to avoid trouble near Pest: Pickard's pick of the crop prepare to show their appetite in Hungary as they chase Davis Cup respectability

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HERE on Margit Island, a Danube haven between Buda and Pest, the second-class teams of Hungary and Britain are about to contest a Davis Cup tie in a stadium which would certainly not be granted a safety certificate by the London Borough of Merton.

The outdoor arena, which might be kindly termed dilapidated, originally accommodated 5,000, but has rotted to 3,000. With no more than 2,000 tickets sold for each session of the Euro/African Zone Group One second round match this weekend, it would seem that only the reputations of the visiting competitors are at risk.

Should Britain win, the prize is a play-off for World Group status in September, with the possibility of drawing last year's cup-winners, the United States, who fell from grace a month ago when their leading players declined to defend the trophy in Australia.

Should Britain lose, there will be no guarantee of a first-round bye in the Euro/African Zone next year to allay the fears of a slump into Group Two, only the certainty of further caustic demands for the Lawn Tennis Association to get its multi-million- pound act together.

The Hungarians, who defeated Finland, 4-1, on an indoor carpet in Budapest last month, consider that playing on a clay court this time gives them an advantage against opponents not noted for expertise on the slower surfaces. Britain did, however, successfully nogotiate their most recent tests on clay, in Romania and Poland, but were beaten, 4-1, on grass in India last time out.

Jeremy Bates, for years the cornerstone of Britain's fortunes, has lost his last four Davis Cup singles matches. In mitigation, two of these were against Guy Forget and Henri Leconte, when France were the defending champions, and the most recent, against Leander Paes in New Delhi, occurred when Bates's stomach was not in the best of order.

The opening and closing matches here will feature Chris Wilkinson, whose only previous Davis Cup experience amounts to playing a couple of dead rubbers. The 23-year-old from Southampton starts against Hungary's No 1, Josef Kroschko, a 25-year- old Ukrainian immigrant. Bates plays Sandor Noszaly, Hungary's No 2, today and Kroschko in the opening singles on Sunday.

Chris Bailey surprisingly is nominated ahead of Mark Petchey to partner Bates in the doubles tomorrow against Lazlo Markovits and Andros Lanyi, though the rules allow Tony Pickard, Britain's captain, the prerogative to change the partnership up to an hour before the match.

It is possible the tie will be decided in the concluding singles, between Wilkinson and Noszaly, just as Roger Taylor's win against Istvan Gulyas, 16-18, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4, gave Britain a 3-2 victory in this same stadium in 1966.

Wilkinson's father, Reg, played professional football for Plymouth, and his grandfather, Joe, played for Southampton, having been transferred from Barnsley. At one point it seemed that Chris would continue the family tradition. He played for Southampton schoolboys, trained with Southampton and had a trial with Coventry ('I'm still waiting to hear'). Eventually, he turned to tennis.

'I became despondent with football,' he said. 'I was one of those lads who could keep the ball up 100 times and dribble round people, and they picked guys who kicked the ball the farthest.' So the other Wimbledon became his goal.

DAVIS CUP EURO/AFRICA ZONE Second round: Hungary v Great Britain (Budapest): Today: J Kroschko v C Wilkinson; S Noszaly v J Bates. Tomorrow: L Markovits and A Lanyi v Bates and C Bailey. Sunday: Kroschko v Bates; Noszaly v Wilkinson.

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