Tennis: Low life for Britain: Slovakia the first hurdle

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LIFE in the third division of the Davis Cup will take Britain first to the Slovak Republic next April, the only familiarity being that they will again have to attempt to dig their way out of trouble on clay.

The pospect of a slow court in Bratislava offers little more comfort than similar traps encountered in Budapest and Oporto en route to demotion, though it will be remembered that the ignominious journey was completed on a fast track in Manchester. Romania were far less perturbed by the challenge of winning shorter points on grass in the relegation play-off in July than their opponents had been of rallying on Portuguese clay four months earlier.

Czechoslovakia won the trophy in 1980, defeating Italy in the final. Since then, maps of Europe have been redefined. Yesterday, when the Czechs were drawn against Italy in the World Group, the Slovaks found themselves slumming with the Brits in Group Two of the Euro-African Zone. Though lacking the expertise of their former colleagues, the Slovaks still boast a player ranked 20 places higher than any Briton: Karol Kucera, No 70 in the world.

'If we are going to win promotion, we have got to beat guys like this,' Bill Knight, the British captain, commented without contradiction, 'and if we play well we have got a good chance.'

Should Britain's expeditionary force succeed, the campaign will be continued on clay with a second round tie in Egypt or Monaco in July. Only then would victory bring a home tie in September against one of the former members of the Soviet Union: Ukraine, whose top player is Andrei Medvedev, the world No 11, Belarus, Estonia or Latvia.

Russia and Sweden, due to contest the final in Moscow in December, were both draw away in the first round of the World Group next year. Russia go to Belgium, Sweden to Denmark. NNN

WORLD GROUP First round: United States v France; Italy v Czech Republic; Denmark v Sweden; Austria v Spain; South Africa v Australia; Belgium v Russia; Switzerland v Netherlands; Germany v Croatia. Matches to be played 1-5 February.

EURO/AFRICAN Zone Group Two: Lithuania v Luxembourg; Nigeria v Poland; Ghana v Ireland; Ivory Coast v Finland; Belarus v Ukraine; Estonia v Latvia; Egypt v Monaco; Slovak Republic v Great Britain. First-round ties to be played 28-30 April; second round, 14-16 July; third round, 22-24 September.