Tennis: Lloyd banks on Davis dominance for Britain

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FROM Earth Summit to the World Group, David Lloyd has reason to believe that he is on a winner. After a profitable punt on the Grand National and a swift victory in the Davis Cup against Ukraine here, Britain's team captain anticipates qualification for a place among the elite 16 in September, and would not be in the least surprised if Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman go on to lift the trophy, securing the nation's first triumph in the event since 1936.

"This team has a better chance to win it than we did," Lloyd said, referring not to the Fred Perry era but to the last time Britain reached the final, in 1978, when he and his younger brother, John, played in the side defeated by the United States, 4-1, in Palm Springs, California.

Pausing for breath, it is difficult to reconcile the buoyancy of Britain's current position with their demotion to Group Two of the Euro-African Zone (effectively the third division) after losing at home to Romania on grass in 1994. On that occasion, Henman made his debut, partnering Jeremy Bates to success in the doubles, Rusedski was still in Canada, pondering his future, and Lloyd was a leader in waiting.

Whatever challenge emerges from Thursday's draw for the qualifying round at Queen's Club, London, Lloyd foresees a future free of "all these zones and who's doing what to who that people find difficult to understand".

What Rusedski and Henman did to Ukraine (Andrei Medvedev and Andrei Who) on Friday and Saturday left 4,500 spectators with two dead singles rubbers to watch yesterday, but there were few complaints. Rusedski indulged in a spot of levity by handing Medvedev a banknote after losing his serve en route to a 6-1, 6-4 win. On Friday, prior to a straight-sets victory against Andrei Rybalko, the British No 1 gave the coin used to toss up to a line judge. We trust that the International Tennis Federation will not misconstrue any of this as bribery.

Henman defeated Rybalko 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, yesterday, while the quality of his first and fifth sets against Medvedev in the second match on Friday, and the spirit the Oxford man displayed in recovering from a slump in the fourth set, were the most memorable moments of individual play. The teamwork of Rusedski and Henman against Medvedev and Rybalko in the doubles was so efficient that Lloyd should encourage them to have tiffs before every tie.

"Greg and Tim are very good for each other," Lloyd said. "They definitely want to be better than the other guy. They have a rivalry, like McEnroe and Borg or Ali and Frazier, but they also have the making of a very good doubles pair. If we're talking about winning the World Group we've got to look at them as the long-term doubles team."

The chief concern, however, is the lack of a supporting cast to Rusedski and Henman, whose combined world ranking of 20 assures Britain a high seeding for Thursday's draw.

"We've got to concentrate on getting 14, 15 and 16-year-olds making the breakthrough," Lloyd said. "After last year against Zimbabwe, I expected Andrew Richardson to make the leap. It has been slow, but he has the game to be there."

For the moment, however, let us not be greedy but instead enjoy another step forward while paying heed to what can befall even mighty tennis nations, such as Australia, when illness and clashes of personality, as in the case of Pat Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, puts a drain on esprit de corps.