Tennis: Indians turn up the heat

Davis Cup: Henman and Broad beaten as Britain forced into final day of World Group qualifier
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The Independent Online
BRITAIN WERE taken to a third day in their bid to reclaim a place in the Davis Cup's World Group when India won the doubles in the play- off tie at Nottingham. The 7-6 6-3 7-6 victory of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi over Tim Henman and Neil Broad was a direct contradiction of the British captain David Lloyd's cheery pre-match forecast ("We'll win in three quick sets"), but, to be honest, it surprised few people.

The Indian duo are a formidable combination, as they showed again yesterday. They were finalists in last year's World Doubles Championships, they enjoy a world ranking of three and are definitely not what the British team palpably were, an inexperienced combination. True, Henman and Broad have a couple of silver medals from the Atlanta Olympics, but this was only the second occasion they have played together in the Davis Cup and the second time they have lost.

With the wonderful gift called hindsight it could be argued that Lloyd should have picked his best two players - Henman and Greg Rusedski - who had done the business in doubles in Britain's two previous Davis Cup ties. But it was probably the exhausting nature of Rusedski's Friday singles match which persuaded the British captain to stick by his originally announced pairing.

Broad is what is known in the trade as "a doubles specialist" and indeed has a world ranking of 26. But players often develop into doubles specialists because they cannot get a decent singles ranking and it is on occasions such as this that they are exposed, as Broad was yesterday.

Henman played quite beautifully, his game given an extra edge by the slightly manic quality he injects into it on a doubles court when representing his nation. But Broad was too slow, too often in his responses to the laser-quick volleying of the Indians, in what was an exhilarating, high- quality contest.

The Indians are a team in every sense, from their matching diamond ear studs to the precise instructions they issue to each other in mid-rally. A frequently-bellowed "You", leaves no doubt as to which one should be applying racket to ball. Paes and Bhupathi also have a touching habit of touching hands after every point, as if to reaffirm solidarity, escalating to the occasional high-five if the rally was won and merited it.

Paes, all handsome elegance, is well known at Wimbledon, where he was once junior champion, but Bhupathi is less of a recognisable figure to British supporters. His style is not designed to attract, with an ugly, swatting forehand and a two-fisted backhand, but he is wise in the ways of angles and options, as befits a top doubles exponent. He was the only one of the four players not to drop serve yesterday.

There were rumours that, after his singles exertions against Rusedski on Friday, Paes had leg and shoulder problems. Though these were not evident, he definitely began to labour the longer the two-hour 20-minute match wore on.

Not in the opening set, however. When Henman started with a rousing love game, Paes promptly matched it. Broad's serve was more vulnerable. He escaped two break points in his first time up, thanks to Henman's aggression at the net, and when Bhupathi faltered in the fourth game, also conceding a couple of break points, it was a misdirected Broad smash which got India off the hook.

It was not until his third service game that Henman even conceded a point, and he promptly double-faulted twice. However, the biggest British escape came in the 11th game when Britain saved five break points on the Broad serve. The British duo were in such a state that Henman was given an official warning for wasting time as he discussed tactics with Broad on the baseline.

Then, having managed to stagger into a tie-break, Henman threw it away, losing all three of his serves. India reached set point on a flashing forehand return from Bhupathi and then a net cord flummoxed Broad as he closed in.

As the British acknowledged afterwards, they had their chances to have made a better fight of it. This was nowhere better illustrated than in the second set, where Britain had one break point on Bhupathi's serve and another two against Paes, who was by now looking tired.

Again India clung on, the complementing skills of the Indian pair being never more in evidence than for them to strike. This came when Broad's serve offered a couple of break points. Only one was needed, as Paes struck a brilliant reflex half- volley straight down the middle and precisely between the British. The reliable Bhupathi served out and India were two sets ahead after an hour- and-a-half. As Broad said later, "They play the big points very well. They know when to move."

When Broad dropped serve again in the third set it seemed all over for Britain, but Paes was broken immediately and there was renewed vigour in Britain's stride. Paes saved a set point on Bhupathi's serve at 4-5 and two more got away from Henman and Broad at 5-6.

In the second tie-break of the match India bore down again, breaking the Henman serve at match point, when another Paes backhand bisected the home team. Henman paid the Indians full tribute: "They were the favourites and they showed why they are one of the top teams."

Today, though, will be a different matter as Henman goes up against Paes in a bid to clinch Britain's place in the top division. And if Tim can't, then Rusedski (against Bhupathi) surely will.