Tennis: Britons show their fighting spirit

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BRITAIN go into the final day of their Davis Cup tie against Portugal today still clinging to the hope of avoiding a relegation play-off in July. It remains a faint hope, yesterday's dramatic five- set win in the doubles rubber having demanded mental and physical exertions from Jeremy Bates and Mark Petchey.

Bates and Petchey were humiliated in the opening singles matches on Friday, and they must continue to carry the responsibility. Bates plays the Portuguese No 1, Nuno Marques, in an attempt to level the tie at 2-2 before Petchey faces Emanuel Couto, the debutant who defeated Bates and who was able to take a rest yesterday.

As Couto watched, Bates and Petchey edged a tense contest against Marques and Joao Cunha-Silva, 7-5, 4-6, 6-7, 6-3, 8-6. The players were on court for nearly four hours, and Cunha-Silva is the only one who does not have to return and extend himself today.

Britain led in all five sets and yet still had to recover from 2-1 down to avoid defeat. In the opening three sets, the match balanced precariously on whether Bates's impressive return of serve would be nullified by Petchey's error-prone serving. Petchey's mistakes gave the Portuguese the confidence to move within sight of ending the Euro-African Zone tie a day ahead of schedule.

The Essex player was broken four times, but fortunately had the resolve to serve out the match when the opportunity came in the 14th game of the final set. Bates, who had served steadily throughout, saving break points here and there, was finally cracked in the eighth game of the fifth set as the Portuguese levelled at 4-4.

Happily from the British point of view, Cunha-Silva, Portugal's most experienced player, also lost his serve at 6-6. Having been dropped from the singles rubbers in favour of Couto,

Cunha-Silva had given Marques excellent assistance, delivering some superb lobs and drop shots, but his netted volley at

15-40 in the 13th game was to prove the decisive mistake.

Bates, who found difficulty coping with Couto's counter- punching, clay-court style on Friday, will at least have a target to aim for in the tall Marques, who is not averse to leaving the baseline and attacking the net. Should Bates succeed in levelling the match, Petchey will face the difficult challenge of unravelling Couto's push- and-run tactics. Having failed dismally against Marques, Petchey will need to show more of the patience he displayed when pushing Andre Agassi so hard in Florida a fortnight ago.

If all goes well, Britain could still be preparing for a World Group qualifying tie rather than the ignominy of dropping to the second division of the also-rans' league.