Tennis: One small step for Britain: Giles Smith reports from Nottingham, where the British Federation Cup team enjoyed a triumph . . . over Luxembourg

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INCREDIBLE as it may seem, a British team played three games of tennis yesterday and didn't lose once. Admittedly they were playing Luxembourg. And admittedly this was just the first match in the Federation Cup European/African regional qualifying competition 1993. If Wimbledon is the Rolls-Royce of tennis, then the Fed Cup regional qualifier is its moped. But these are not golden days for the British women's team and this is no time to be fussy about victories.

Ordinarily, Britain would not have to qualify for the Federation Cup. They would go straight through with the big-wigs like the United States, Germany and France. But last year in Frankfurt, losers had to enter a play- off competition for the right to go direct into this year's tournament.

Britain faced Finland, not thought to rank among the great tennis nations. Being British, though, they blew it. So here they are in Nottingham, thrown in at the shallow end with Ukraine and Lithuania, with Tunisia and Senegal, watched by a handful of local diehards and a couple of school parties in bright anoraks.

Women's tennis was something the British used to do well. Back when rackets were wooden, they had Virginia Wade, Sue Barker and the current British team captain, Ann Jones. But something went wrong. Jones tried to define the problem after yesterday's triumph.

'To say today's youngsters are soft would be a bit harsh,' she said. 'But the British way of life is not conducive to pain tolerance. It's a long time since the war years when there was rationing and deprivation. And to get to the top requires sacrifice and pain.'

But in the absence of another world conflict, we are left with Jo Durie. Except, at Nottingham this week, we are not even left with Jo Durie. She is suffering from a stress fracture of the knee. Into her place stepped Monique Javer, 26, who lives and trains in America but claims British nationality through her mother. It says much about the state of British women's tennis that its current brightest hope is a tall, tanned Californian.

At midday, Javer faced Luxembourg's Anne Kremer, who played in a T-shirt and track-pants, which made it look as if she could hardly be bothered to get changed. Both players spent the first set giving their service games away, but Javer eventually settled, and took both sets 6-4. At which point the umpire uttered the words you thought you might never again be privileged to hear: 'Game, set and match, Great Britain.'

Meanwhile, on Court Six, Slovenia's Tina Krizan was pasting Zimbabwe's Cora Black in a fixture watched only by other team members. And on Court Two, Russia was slogging it out against Ukraine, a fixture which served as reminder that in some nations, tennis has come apart in a very real sense. Olga Lugina tried to out- psyche Elena Makarova, the Russian No 1, by wearing a giant pink hat. She was crushed anyway, 6-3, 6-3. 'Russia,' Ann Jones said, 'is the team we have to fear.' They meet tomorrow.

Back on Court One, Britain's Clare Wood hammered Luxembourg's Christine Goy 6-2, 6-1 by aggressively working the net and slamming the ball deep into the corners. Paired with the agile Julie Salmon, she then destroyed the Luxembourg doubles team, 6-1, 6-3. As they eased to victory in the second set, the wind let up, the sun poked through and a nearby clock tower chimed four. Not very British of them to win. But very British of them to get it over in time for tea.

(Photograph omitted)