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Tennis: Britain to face African challenge

Britain's Davis Cup team will play Zimbabwe in the second round of the Euro/African zone Group One at Crystal Palace from 4 to 6 April, a match in which they should start strong favourites.

Britain had a bye in the first round and Zimbabwe went through when taking a winning 3-0 lead over Ukraine in Harare this weekend. The brothers Byron and Wayne Black gained the winning point by beating Andrei Medvedev and Dimitri Poliakov 6-7, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the doubles.

But the decisive blow came on on Friday when the little known Wayne Black beat the celebrated Medvedev 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the opening singles. Byron Black then beat Andrei Rybalko 5-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3 for a 2-0 lead.

David Lloyd, Britain's non-playing captain, said of the Crystal Palace sell-out: "Everyone knows it will be a tough match. On paper we should be favourites but in the Davis Cup it is never easy to predict. You cannot underestimate anyone, as Wayne Black proved in beating Medvedev. That was a result that no one expected."

If Britain win they will go forward to the World Group qualifying round from September 19 to 21. Victory then would put Britain back in the World Group of the top 16 nations, a place the country lost when they were relegated in 1992.

Arnaud Boetsch salvaged some pride for the beaten Davis Cup holders, France, by defeating Patrick Rafter to prevent a whitewash by Australia in their World Group first-round tie in Sydney yesterday. Boetsch beat Rafter 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the final singles match after Australia had wrapped up the tie by taking an unassailable 3-0 lead by winning the doubles on Saturday.

Sandon Stolle gave Australia the chance of a 5-0 victory when he defeated the French No 1, Cedric Pioline, 7-6, 6-4 in the first of the reverse singles.

Boetsch's win over Rafter came as small consolation for France, who only nine weeks ago had won a dramatic 3-2 Davis Cup final against Sweden in Malmo.

South Africa lined up a probable second-round tie away to former champions Sweden in April after victory over Russia in their match in Durban yesterday. The South African pair of Ellis Ferreira and Grant Stafford outclassed Andrei Olhovskiy and Andrei Cherkasov 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 in the doubles to give the home side a winning 3-0 lead.

Carlos Moya sealed Germany's exit in Mallorca yesterday when he overpowered Hendrik Dreekman 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. Spain eventually won the tie 4-1.