Tennis: Britain's duo back in tune for Newcastle

John Roberts says Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman must resist complacency in this weekend's Davis Cup tie against the Ukraine
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The Independent Online
THE manager of a northern football club once attributed his team's run of success to the "great harmonium" in the dressing-room. It was probably of greater significance that the players happened to be in tune during performances.

Come next Thursday, Britain's name ought to be in the draw for September's qualifying round for the World Group of the Davis Cup, another step towards respectability on the tennis courts, thanks to Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman.

Whether the pair will be disposed to salute each other with high fives in the Telewest Arena in Newcastle today, tomorrow and on Sunday remains to be seen. A simple "well done" will suffice if they complete a second victory in nine months against Ukraine.

All appeared to be peaceful and positive yesterday on the eve of the tie, David Lloyd, Britain's captain, emphasising togetherness and Rusedski and Henman blaming the usual suspects, the media, for blowing their tiff into a feud.

Whether Rusedski and Henman form the doubles partnership tomorrow, as they did crucially during Britain's 3-2 win in Kiev last July, is open to speculation. Lloyd, who has nominated Henman and Neil Broad, the 1996 Olympic Games silver medallists in Atlanta, is allowed to change his mind up to an hour before the rubber against Andrei Medvedev and Dimitri Poliakov, who were defeated at home by Henman and Rusedski in straight sets.

Much depends on the outcome of today's singles matches between Rusedski (No 5 in the world and Andrei Rybalko (No 525) and Henman (No 15) and Andrei Medvedev (No 27). Favoured by a clay court in Kiev, Medvedev defeated both Rusedski and Henman, who, in turn, both prevailed against Rybalko, although Henman was taken to five sets in the opening rubber.

Although home advantage and a fast carpet court ought to give Britain the edge, both teams will be sent to the court with briefings which will no doubt include the time- honoured reminder that world rankings count for little in Davis Cup matches.

Rusedski defeated Rybalko in straight sets in the concluding rubber in Kiev, and the British No 1's serve, which has been timed at a record 149 mph, is calculated to unhinge even the best returners in the world. This would appear to leave the 25-year-old Rybalko with little to lose except perhaps his head.

Careless thoughts can cost ties. British teams only need to be nudged about the Romanian Razvan Sabau's escapology on a grass court at Didsbury, Manchester, in July 1994. The 1993 Wimbledon junior champion was aged 17 and ranked No 787 when he recovered from two sets and 1-5 down to save three match points before defeating Jeremy Bates (No 76) in the opening rubber.

Sabau went on to defeat Mark Petchey in the fifth set of the fifth rubber to consign Britain to Group Two of the Euro-African Zone, their lowest point since the Davis Cup was inaugurated in 1900.

With rehabilitation in sight, this is no time to get tight.

Today (2pm): Greg Rusedski v Andrei Rybalko, Tim Henman v Andrei Medvedev. Tomorrow (3.45pm): Henman and Neil Broad v Medvedev and Dimitri Poliakov. Sunday (12.0 noon): Rusedski v Medvedev, Henman v Rybalko.