Tennis: Lasting value of epic defeat

Davis Cup: Tennis is the winner as valiant Henman and Rusedski are forced to face up to harsh reality

BRITAIN'S PROSPECTS of winning the Davis Cup (a statement no longer to be greeted with derision) disappeared for the immediate future with the anguished gasps of 9,000 spectators in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, and those of the millions who followed the dramatic marathon between Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski and the United States on television.

But the weekend's epic contest will be of lasting value if, as the American hero Jim Courier said: "This is the kind of match that gets a lot of kids out wanting to play tennis tomorrow."

The beauty of Birmingham, where a total of 30,000 people were thrilled by virtually every point played, hour upon hour, was that it was not Wimbledon, the stately home of an elitist sport, but an everyman venue that may inspire youngsters to take up rackets on the nearest available piece of ground, if such oases are still to be found. "I'll be Tim, you be Greg."

Rusedski, though close to tears after losing to Courier, 8-6, in the fifth set of the fifth and final match of the tie, which gave the Americans victory 3-2, encapsulated the significance of the audience. "I think the thing that was nice is that you had such a diverse crowd," he said. "You had a mixture of kids there, from different backgrounds and stuff like that, rather than just having the regular people out there, which I think is important."

What they saw - along with 7.8m viewers, which BBC2 anticipate will be their biggest audience of the week - was proof that no matter how many millions Wimbledon pumps into the Lawn Tennis Association, and no matter how many indoor centres are built, and no matter how many coaching initiatives are tried, great players cannot be manufactured. They need to have the heart to succeed along with the skill and fitness to produce winning shots.

The combination was there in abundance and the 28-year-old Courier, a former world No 1 with four Grand Slam singles titles to his name, exemplified the nature of the contest. "We in the locker-room on our side all agree that this has been the highest level of tennis that we've been a part of at a Davis Cup tie, from start to finish," Courier said. "It was incredibly competitive and, really, just thrilling. This is as good as it gets."

Tom Gullikson, the United States captain, had been unable to persuade Pete Sampras, the world's greatest player, and Andre Agassi, the sport's biggest personality, to play, which was their loss, not his. "These guys," Gullikson said of Courier, Todd Martin and Alex O'Brien, "are the A team, they're America's team; they care, and they're here."

Turning to Courier, Gullikson said: "When he puts his game-face on, nobody has the mental focus that Jim has. Of all the players I've had the honour of sitting next to in Davis Cup, I think Jim mentally is really the best."

"Okay, Gully," a smiling Courier interjected, "you're revelling in the moment too much; don't get carried away."

While the Americans plan for a centenary match against Australia in Boston in July, Britain wait to see what Thursday's draw for the qualifying round brings in September. The eight first-round losers in the World Group join the winners in the Zonal Group 1 competition in a 16-nation draw. The winners qualify for the World Group next year, and the losers participate in Zonal Group 1 competition.

"It's just very sad that after four years we get in that situation," said David Lloyd, the British captain. "I knew it was going to be a 50- 50 call [against the Americans], but we will fight another day, I can guarantee you that. The team are fantastic. They couldn't have done any better, worked any harder or played any better. It was just down to a few points here and there. It was really blood, sweat and tears, and it's sad that one team had to lose. It hurts like hell. And it will hurt more tomorrow than it does now. But we're young in this league."

One of the chief concerns is that Britain may be drawn away to one of the nations who play on slow clay courts, a surface anathema to British players. The irony is that a win against the Americans would have taken Britain to Australia, and the possibility of playing on clay under the roof at Melbourne Park. The Aussies had reasoned that Britain's dread of clay would be a bigger factor than their own preference for grass or concrete.

Henman, who spent a total of 10 hours and 44 minutes on the court, losing to Courier in the opening match, partnering Rusedski to success against Martin and 0'Brien in Saturday's doubles and overcoming the 28-year-old Martin in four sets to level the tie at 2-2 on Sunday, was an animated spectator at the Rusedski-Courier finale.

"At the level we play at now, it's not about taking part, it's about winning and losing," Henman said. "I'm sure a lot of people have had a really amazing weekend watching some of the tennis, but from a playing point of view it's all about winning. If we lose it's been a wasted weekend and I think that's the harsh reality of it."

Rusedski said he felt he let the team down by not winning either of his singles matches. "It's nice to be close, but maybe only in bowls, not in tennis," he said. "I think definitely [Courier's] experience helped, but I should have been able to raise my standards slightly and tried to find a way to win."

It would be an understatement to describe Rusedski's performance against Courier as uneven. Although he hit 31 aces, he double-faulted 15 times and was foot-faulted 12 times in the three hours and 47 minutes. "I didn't let it bother me," Rusedski said. "I went out and did my best with it. I can't remember being foot-faulted that many times, but it didn't come at crucial points when I got broken."

Courier said he was nervous watching Martin play Henman. "I tried not to watch too much," he added. "As my match drew closer and closer, I kind of went more into myself and came out feeling really good. When I walked out on to the court I knew what I had to do and, if Greg could do better, that was going to be fine. I really felt calm, I really felt serene. And that's a good place for me to be in a situation like today, when you have a lot of people trying to get in your head.

"The fact was for most of the match I wasn't sniffing his serve. Eventually I broke through. I had a lot of chances, and he came up with some great stuff. It was mentally a very strong effort for me."

Recrimination tends to follow defeat, however narrow the margin. On this occasion the British game needs to keep the event in perspective. Henman and Rusedski are the sum of the nation's tennis resources at the highest level, and the prospect of aspiring talent joining them, and taking their place sooner or later, can only be helped by the spectacular matches seen in Birmingham.

"It's powerful," Lloyd said. "You can't buy what's happened out there. It was a fantastic atmosphere."

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star