Jeremy Bates and Mark Petchey must win the doubles rubber this afternoon to avoid Britain plunging into a relegation match in July which would present the possibility of an almost unthinkable drop into the Second Division of the Euro-African Zone and both those players - provided Pickard sticks with them - will have to perform 100 per cent better than they did yesterday, when both were humiliated in the opening singles matches.
Bates, playing his 46th rubber, lost the last 11 games to lose from 2-1 up against a Portugese debutant, Emmanuel Couto. The score, 6-3,
5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, is a sad reflection on the British game when one considers that Couto had only once played a five set match, and lost that 6-0 in the fifth after leading two sets to love against Joao Cunha Silva in the final of the national championships three years ago.
Petchey had earlier lost to the Portugese No 1, Nuno Marques, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1, a performance of disappointing naivety against a player who was brought up on clay courts such as the one here but still combines an attacking instinct with shrewd technique.
He lost the first set in only 22 minutes, winning only one point off his opponent's serve, and seven off his own. He then won only three points in the tie-break. A sea mist crept in the Tennis Club da Foz, and though the sun broke through briefly, cloud came to envelop Petchey and Bates and send a chill through the British observers, many of whom had travelled from the Lawn Tennis Association.
While Petchey was frequently outplayed at the net, The 20-year old Couto, ranked 348 in the world, presented an entirely different problem for Bates. Here was the archetypal clay court counter-puncher, utilising heavy top spin to drive his opponent to defensive positions. Bates's display was littered with errors, chiefly because he was unable to compete in the lengthier rallies. Worst still, Couto experienced physical difficulties from the middle of the third set. He was cramping in both legs, but managed to gain strength along with the confidence that came when he was able to dominate later on.
Bates, ranked No 119, has only once before lost a deciding set of a 'live' rubber, 6-0. On this occasion Bates did not think he played particularly badly, preferring instead to give his opponent credit. 'In the last couple of sets, he just didn't miss,' Bates said.
Pickard raised the point that players take time to get accustomed to playing clay-court specialists on the game's slowest surface. 'They just keeping knocking the balls back until you miss,' the captain said. 'I don't think Jeremy played too badly, though the errors cost him dearly. I can go to the clay courts with Stefan (Edberg, whom he coaches) and experience the same sort of thing until he gets used to it.'
'The whole thing is completely uphill,' Bates agreed, 'but we were down 2-0 in Hungary and came back to win the doubles.' While that is true, Britain still lost the match in Budapest, and as Bates admitted: 'The doubles here will be tougher than in Hungary.'
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