Tennis: Lloyd lauds a doubles delight

Henman and Rusedski in tandem has the British Davis Cup captain relishing their potential.
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The Independent Online
FOR ONE so single-minded, David Lloyd was delighted to start the week with double vision - the sight of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski winning their first ATP Tour title together in the Guardian Direct Cup at Battersea Park, London, with the promise of success against the United States to come in the Davis Cup tie in Birmingham at Easter.

The British pair, who did not concede a set in their four matches against regular teams, defeated the No 3 seeds, Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, and the South African Wayne Ferreira in Sunday's final, 6-3, 7-6.

Lloyd, the British captain, was contented, even though the he knew that Henman and Rusedski do not plan to make a habit of playing doubles outside the national cause.

"To be honest," Henman said, "I don't think we really have any ambitions in doubles. For us, we want to win the singles titles and we want to win Grand Slams, and I think if we were playing more and more doubles that would detract from that. Singles is what it's about."

Rusedski, defeated in Sunday's singles final by the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, considers that the game has moved on since John McEnroe preached that doubles was the best form of practice for singles. "I think the Tour's a lot harder now than when McEnroe was playing," Rusedski said. "In singles you could win maybe one or two rounds without having to exert yourself as much, whereas in the game nowadays in singles, if you're not sharp the first day you're out of the tournament."

The encouraging part is that Henman and Rusedski are prepared to play doubles in the Davis Cup, even it means having to contest three five-set matches on consecutive days.

"I think it's good," Rusedski said, "because having that day off in between sometimes can be tough if I lose my [first singles match] unless I'm playing well. I don't think there should be a problem if we have to play three matches in a row, because we're professionals, plus it's indoors as well."

Henman agreed. "If you go to five sets in each match, you know you're capable of it," he said. "It's going to be taxing, but I'm sure we're good enough to be able to do that."

Lloyd had no doubts. "You can't ask for more than they did [last week]," he said. "I thought they performed on that fast court exceptionally well. Tim, from the right-hand court, got better and better as the week went on, and in the end he was returning great. And for Greg to come out after losing a tough, three-sets singles I think mentally is very good for him. It showed a lot of character.

"I've always thought they were a world-class pair, and this endorses it. I wouldn't bet against them on any fast to medium-fast court. They combined well - a pairing of left and right handers is always a big advantage - and Greg, with Tim at the net, can maybe serve for a year and not be broken. You've got a guy at the net with a pair of the quickest hands in the game, and he loves volleying.

"I'm really pleased for them, and I've got to thank the two coaches [David Felgate and Sven Groeneveld] for making my life very much easier. I wanted Tim and Greg to play together, and I was able to pick up the phone and ask. It's helped the players, too. They know we're all singing from the same hymn sheet. With the Davis Cup and the World Team Championship events coming up I think we've got a really good team spirit. On the court they were talking and liaising. It's a healthy sign, and I couldn't be happier."

As Henman said: "We knew we had the ingredients to be a good pair, but I think we were pleasantly surprised in the way we played. We improved a lot during the week. I thought the first match, against [Kevin] Ullyett and [Piet] Norval, was like we were playing singles out there. We were serving and volleying and just playing court to court, and the guy at the net wasn't really doing a great deal. We didn't make many returns. What you saw in the final was a combination."

Rusedski complimented his partner. "I think my movement has got a lot better, because Tim's played a lot more doubles than I have, so he knows how to move better on the court."

Henman reciprocated. "You look at it from a serving point of view, and we played four matches, and I lost my serve once, and pretty much donated that game, and Greg hasn't lost his serve at all. So when you lose your serve once in eight sets, that is a good sign."

All of which still leaves Lloyd with the problem of finding reinforcements. The 32-year-old Neil Broad, who partnered Henman to the Olympic Games silver medal in Atlanta in 1996, remains the best option as an alternative for the doubles. He combined with Henman when Britain lost the doubles on the way to securing a return to the World Group against India in Nottingham last September.

"Neil's been terrific," Lloyd said. "When I told him on the morning of the doubles in Ukraine [that he wasn't playing], he was terrific about it. He's a great team man. He knows that if everything's right and Tim and Greg are both fit, they're going to play. He knew that against India, but as soon as I told him he was playing, he was up for it. And he played very well this week [with the South African Robbie Koenig] against Tim and Greg. He knows the score and he's a terrific team man. Those three pick themselves.

"The hardest bit is who else do you pick. It isn't easy, believe me. I suppose you've got to look at the worst and think one of them might get injured, or they have a long match and not be up for the next two days."

But Lloyd is not one to dwell on negative thoughts. "I'd rather be British than American," he trilled, laughing while adding, "but that's tongue- in-cheek." No point in over-playing the air of confidence.