Tennis: Bates and Petchey carry burden: Britain back on familiar ground as they try to avoid Davis Cup ignominy

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The Independent Online
BRITISH tennis being under the weather, it appears somewhat dodgy to launch a Davis Cup relegation play-off on St Swithin's Day in Manchester. The outlook for the tie against Romania, however, is promising - mostly cloudy but dry today; sunny tomorrow and Sunday - and though a silver lining is out of the question, the British game should at least be left with a lining of some sort.

Defeat on the clay of Portugal in March landed Jeremy Bates and his colleagues in their current predicament, and the grass of home may contribute greatly towards salvaging the situation.

Victory over the next three days at the Northern club would leave Britain marking time in Division One of the Euro-African Zone, waiting for another opportunity to challenge for a place in the 16- strong World Group. Defeat would consign them to the ignominy of Division Two, the lowest point since the event was inaugurated in 1900 as a cosy conflict between the United States and Britain.

Bates and Mark Petchey, selected to contest the singles and doubles, have not had the luxury of playing a home tie since the win against Austria at the Northern Club three years ago. Subsequent defeats in France, India, Hungary and Portugal have led to the possibility of booking for the likes of Kenya, Ireland, Egypt, Senegal and Estonia, should further calamity befall the team.

The opening contest could set the tone, with the 32-year- old Bates, Britain's best, faced with the 17-year-old Razvan Sabau, who won the Wimbledon junior title last year. While Bates, as ever, carries a burden of responsibility, Sabau may relish the prospect of causing an upset against a player who advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon less than three weeks ago.

Perhaps the time has come for Petchey, ranked No 88 after reaching the semi-finals of last week's ATP Tour grass- court event at Newport, Rhode Island, to assume the leading role.

Britain survived the clay of Bucharest in 1990, when Romania was preoccupied with revolution. Warren Jacques captained the British team on that occasion, since when the Australian has given way to Tony Pickard, who left acrimoniously following the defeat in Oporto.

Bill Knight, caught in the crossfire of the Pickard affair, has managed to settle the dust at the Lawn Tennis Association and could provide the steadying influence necessary for a successful debut as team captain.

GREAT BRITAIN v ROMANIA: Davis Cup relegation play-off (Today, 11am): J Bates v R Sabau; M Petchey v A Pavel. (Tomorrow, 2.15pm): Bates and Petchey v D Pescariu and G Cosac. (Sunday, 11am): Bates v Pavel; Petchey v Sabau.