Unless Tim Henman and Rusedski recover from the disappointment of their opening singles matches and combine to defeat Jim Courier and Alex 0'Brien in today's doubles, the contest will be over and Britain will have to prepare for a World Group qualifying tie after Wimbledon. Rusedski fell to Todd Martin, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, after one hour and 49 minutes last night after Henman had earlier lost a four hour, 12 minute marathon against Jim Courier, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5.
Try though Henman did to respond to the roar of the crowd, Courier would not be denied. There was pride in every winning shot he made in a victory which achieved more than words could to mock his compatriots, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, for their lack of interest in the 100th anniversary of tennis's premier men's team competition.
The 28-year-old Courier's response to a call to arms was magnificent, and he ended the long duel with Henman, the British No 1, with a backhand service return to break his opponent to love.
The first set tie-break ran away from Henman after he hit his second double fault of the match for 1-3. The players had been on court for 48 minutes, and Courier was ready to take his opportunity. The American forced another mini break, returning a second serve, and he secured the set in style, 2-7, with a forehand lob after Henman had again missed with a first serve.
Although there were no service breaks en route to the first-set shoot-out, Henman did well to escape in the opening game, in which his erratic first serve gave Courier four break points. Having double faulted on the first point of the match, Henman served and volleyed his way out of trouble on the first break- point, and erased the second with an ace. Courier missed a forehand on the third opportunity, and hit a backhand second service return long on the fourth.
Henman steadied his serve to the extent that he did not lose a point on it until reaching 30-0 at 4-4. Courier was unimpressed, having given little away on his own serves, hitting them deep and following them to the net whenever prudent. Henman created a couple of drop volleys to take a 6-5 lead, but took just one point off Courier's serve before the tie-break.
The crowd had been subdued during the early part of the match, so quiet in the opening games that the air-conditioning made the most noise, an eerie whistling wind sound which created an impression that 10,000 inhabitants in the National Indoor Arena were trapped in a haunted house.
Henman's endeavours transformed the atmosphere by breaking for 3-2 in the second set. Courier's serve began to waver, and he hit his first double-faults of the match in the seventh game, the third on break point. Henman held to love to level the match, taking the set in 30 minutes.
Courier double-faulted again to present Henman with an opportunity to break in the third game of the third set, but Henman's forehand return on the next point landed in the net. Service errors were beginning to become a feature of the contest, Henman double-faulting when broken for 2-5 - Courier responding in kind when serving at 5-3. The American lost his composure over the line call on his second serve, marching to the net to protest. Henman continued to play his way back into the set, and Courier's relationships with the crowd continued to be ambivalent. "Give me a break down here," Courier shouted at 2-2 in the second shoot-out after another call went against him. A spectator responded with, "I suppose you thought that was in as well?" after Courier missed his first serve on the next point. Courier turned and pointed at the heckler after nudging ahead, 3-2. "That next shot was for you," he said. He then broke Henman for 5-2 and won the tie-break, 7-3. "A lot of close calls did go against me," Courier said, "but that's home cooking. I got a little fired up, and I don't think it hurt me."
Henman recovered a break of serve to level at 4-4 on the way to the fourth- set tie-break, which generated the most dramatic action of the match. Double faults again played a part, Henman hitting two for 4-5. He recovered for 5-5, only to hit a backhand long to give Courier the first of four match points. The American missed with the a wild backhand service return. Henman created a set point with an ace, only to net a forehand for 7- 7. The Briton saved the second match point with another ace, but double- faulted for 8-9. A backhand to the baseline saved the third match point, and Courier hit another backhand return wide across the court on his fourth. The American compounded that by missing a forehand on Henman's second set point, the Briton winning the shoot-out, 12-10.
Games went with serve in the fifth set until Henman tossed and delivered the ball at 0-40 in the 12th game. And when the fifth match point came Courier's way, he hit the sweetest backhand cross-court return you could wish to see.
Rusedski struggled against Martin from the start, losing his serve in the opening game and having to save six break-points to keep the margin of the first set score respectable. Although he recovered an early break in the second set to level at 3-3, Rusedski double-faulted on game point in the ninth game and Martin was able to break for 5-4. Martin controlled the third set, breaking for 3-2 and 5-2. "The way Todd played today he wouldn't have lost to anyone," Rusedski said.
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