Tennis: Henman injury sparks Davis Cup dispute

Click to follow
Tim Henman, the British No 1, had no sooner lost his opening match at the Lipton Championships here than he found himself in the middle of a career versus country spat between his coach, David Felgate, and the Davis Cup captain, David Lloyd.

Felgate expressed the opinion that Henman, who has an injured right elbow, should withdraw from the Davis Cup team to play Zimbabwe at Crystal Palace a week next Friday.

"In my mind it would be an easy decision," Felgate said. "I don't think Tim should play again until Tokyo, which would give him three and a half weeks' rest. He has to think of his career, not playing for his country."

Lloyd, responding from California, said: "It's not for David Felgate to say things like that, it's for the doctors - or has David qualified as a surgeon all of a sudden? In my view, playing for your country is the most important thing you can do, and I would hope that if Tim can possibly play, then he will."

With Greg Rusedski nursing a wrist injury, Britain might be without their top two players for the Euro-African Zone tie, which will determine whether the nation qualifies for a play-off for promotion to the World Group in September.

The result of an MRI scan will determine Henman's next course of treatment for what the ATP Tour trainer, Bill Norris, describes as "a slight degenerative problem". Norris added that "the elbow is put together in a strange way".

Henman does not rule out the possibility of surgery as a last resort. "I think the problem goes back to when I was 11," he said, "and then two and a half years ago I had the same problem with a loose body. That's what brings on the irritation. Two and a half years ago I rested for three weeks, then I was able to start playing again. If that's the case, then it doesn't bode well for the Davis Cup.

"But then, obviously, if I were to rest for three weeks, try and start playing again and it flares up, obviously rest may not be good enough. So then you talk about having bits taken out. It's just a question of waiting and seeing really."

A recurrance of the condition, which caused Henman to miss the previous week's ATP Tour event at Indian Wells, California, contributed to a 6- 7, 6-2, 6-3 defeat on Saturday by Julian Alonso, a 19-year-old Spanish qualifier, ranked No 228 in the world, who was competing in his first hard court tournament.

"Going out there half-cock and losing is bad for Tim's morale and doesn't do any good for his ranking," Felgate said, "and it lets other people think they can beat him. Playing in the way he was forced to play today won't do anyone any good in the Davis Cup. If this kid [Alonso] with no experience has worked out that Tim has a problem, what is somebody with Byron Black's experience and game going to make of it all? It's obvious that Greg and Tim aren't right."

Black, ranked No 46, and his brother Wayne, a doubles specialist, are a threat to Britain's progress. "It's most crucial we have Tim for this tie," Lloyd said. "It's the most important tie Britain has had for years. We might not have another chance to go into a qualifying round with a home tie."

Lloyd, who included Andrew Richardson, the 22-year-old Lincolnshire left- hander, in his squad, dropped Mark Petchey from his original five, but has the option of restoring the Essex player.

However, Lloyd is adamant that he will not recall Hampshire's Chris Wilkinson, who reacted negatively to Rusedski's recruitment from Canada in 1995. "He stated categorically he would not play for the team, and he has not contacted me to say anything to the contrary."

The 16-year-old Martina Hingis, who will become the youngest ever world No 1 next Monday, sized up and overcame one of her future rivals yesterday in straight sets in the third round - the 6ft 2in Venus Williams, her senior by three months.

Williams, who on Saturday night won an amazing three-set contest against a former prodigy, Jennifer Capriati, recovering from 1-5 in each of the first two sets, began in dazzling style against Hingis, winning the first three games.

Even after Hingis pulled back to 3-3, Williams again took the initiative - only to miss a game point that would have given her a 5-3 lead. Hingis capitalised, taking the set, 6-4, at which point Williams's concentration went walk-about during the first three games of the second set. She lost it, 6-2.

As against Capriati, Williams displayed a powerful serve and some spectacular shot-making, but had less success at the net against the clever Hingis.