TENNIS: Britain's void is Lloyd's worry

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The Independent Online
WHILE TIM Henman and Greg Rusedski played doubles together in London last night with a view to the Davis Cup tie against the United States in Birmingham at Easter, David Lloyd, the British captain, fretted about where his next international player was coming from.

Lloyd could not contain his frustration that Andrew Richardson, a squad candidate he hoped to see play against world-class opposition, had rejected a wild card for the pounds 510,000 Guardian Direct Cup because he did not consider he merited it.

Richardson's world ranking of No 444 provided compelling evidence in support of his decision, even though it meant turning down the chance to collect pounds 3,200 as a first-round loser. And that is precisely the amount the 24-year-old from Lincolnshire has won so far this year on his journeys to Qatar, Australia, India and Germany, competing chiefly in low grade tournaments.

"It was a total shock to be offered a a wild card, and I didn't feel comfortable taking it," Richardson said. "The money would have been nice, but in singles I'm struggling at the moment. I was just being honest. I felt it would be better to give the opportunity to somebody else."

"It was honourable," Lloyd conceded, "but the bit that worried me was that he didn't say, `I want to show these world class guys'. I was disappointed, but not in a nasty way. I would just like to see him play. If he was in the draw as a wild card, none of these guys would expect an easy ride. They don't like playing somebody like Andrew. He's a very good player. But he doesn't believe he's a good player."

Richardson's wild card went to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, the world No 13 and Australian Open finalist, who advanced to the second round yesterday with a 6-1, 6-3 win against the Swiss Marc Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion.

Britain does not have a wild card in the draw. Having offered the chance to Richardson, Jeremy Bates, the manager of men's national training at the Lawn Tennis Association, decided, in consultation with one of the tournament promoters, Jeremy Dier, to take three wild cards for pre-qualifying instead. Martin Lee, Simon Dickson and David Sherwood failed to win a set between them.

Lloyd's concern about the lack of a supporting cast to Henman and Rusedski - "it's a danger zone, the gap is getting wider and wider, it's a worry when you have got two superstars and nothing else" - is acute. Both were injured when Britain lost 4-1 to Zimbabwe at Crystal Palace in 1997, the irony being that Richardson produced the performance of the tie in defeating Byron Black, Zimbabwe's No 1.

Moreover, Richardson accepted a wild card for the inaugural Battersea event last year, and the 6ft 7in left-hander nicknamed "Flex" defeated Rosset in the opening round. But Richardson was so distraught after losing in the first round at Wimbledon last year to the Moroccan Hicham Arazi that he decided to quit the game.

Henman persuaded him to try again, and was his doubles partner in Qatar last month. Henman's coach, David Felgate, also helps Richardson with his game whenever possible.

Yesterday the British No 1 supported Richardson's decision concerning the wild card. "I think it was a good effort," Henman said. "He showed a lot of integrity. It's the first time a British player has done a thing like that for a long time."

Henman, the No 2 seed here, is due to play his opening singles match tomorrow night, when a meeting with Jan Kroslak offers an opportunity to erase the memory of one of Britain's darker days. Kroslak won their only previous match in a Davis Cup tie on clay in Slovakia in 1995 as Britain slipped to their lowest point - Group Two of the Euro-African Zone, effectively the third division.

Rusedski, the No 3 seed, is due on court tonight against Italy's Gianluca Pozzi, ranked No 65, who ended 1998 as the oldest player ranked in the world's top 100 (33 years and 6 months).

The strong winds yesterday threatened to transform the indoor tournament into an outdoor event. Fortunately the tented roof withstood the strain, although one or two players gave it some anxious glances.

"The roof makes strange noises in the wind," said Goran Ivanisevic, the No 7 seed, who advanced to the second round in spite of losing a set 6- 0 against the Dutchman Jan Siemerink. "You have to be doubly concentrated, not freak out like I did," added the Croat, who hit 12 double-faults before surviving, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6.

GUARDIAN DIRECT CUP (Battersea Park, London) First round: D Prinosil (Ger) bt A Pavel (Rom) 7-6 6-3; H Arazi (Mor) bt B Ulihrach (Cz Rep) 7- 5 6-4; T Enqvist (Swe) bt M Rosset (Swit) 6-1 6-3; G Ivanisevic (Croa) bt J Siemerink (Neth) 6-3 0-6 7-6.