Tennis: Richardson is consolation

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It cannot be said that the result was a surprise, so we must be thankful for small mercies - or a sizeable one in the case of the 6ft 7in Andrew Richardson. Britain lost an opportunity to advance to the World Group promotion round of the Davis Cup, but found a player who might help avoid a return to the ignominy of Group II of the Euro/African Zone.

The prospect of defeating Zimbabwe's brothers Black, Byron and Wayne, had dwindled in medical rooms more than a week before the teams came to London. Injuries denied Britain of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, the two players who have raised the nation's interest in the sport.

Unfortunately from a home point of view, the tie ended in a humiliating defeat for one of the understudies, the 20-year-old Jamie Delgado, who was two thirds of the way towards a 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 thrashing by Byron Black before he raised the biggest roar of the afternoon by winning a game.

After Delgado left the court, still wondering what happened to all the points in the opening two sets, which flashed by in 40 minutes, Richardson reappeared to play a "dead" rubber against Wayne Black which he lost 6- 3, 6-7, 7-6. Richardson's consolation was that his heroic five-set victory against Byron Black in the second singles rubber had prevented the tie from being as good as dead on Friday.

Richardson, selected for David Lloyd's squad before injuries ruled out Henman and Rusedski, is likely to play an important role in future ties. Perceived as a potential doubles partner for Neil Broad - or perhaps Henman - the 23-year-old left-hander from Lincolnshire proved to have the nerve, as well as the serve, to fulfil the particular demands of international singles matches.

Next up instead of the promotion round in September is a journey to the perils of a slow clay court in Kiev for a duel with Ukraine the week after Wimbledon in July. Should Britain lose there to Andre Medvedev and his colleagues, September will bring a relegation play-off, probably against Hungary. At least that one will be at home, on a surface of Lloyd's choice.

Lloyd sat beside a downcast Delgado in the interview room and did his best to sound upbeat. "No, we haven't got the depth we would like, but there are players coming through and we've got to look on the positive side," he said. "I still thought we'd win, and it all turned on a couple of points in the doubles.''

The partnership of Broad and Mark Petchey lost Saturday's five-set thriller against the brothers Black, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, to put Britain two rubbers to one down, but we can only speculate how much better Delgado would have performed if presented with an opportunity to win the tie rather than level it.

He was unable to sustain the encouraging start he made to Friday's opening rubber against Wayne Black, who defeated him in four sets, and was swept away by Byron Black yesterday. In each case, Delgado's serve heaped points on his opponents. He double-faulted 13 times against Wayne, and 10 times against his older brother.

"A few times I just tried to get my first serve in by taking a little bit of pace off it, but I just kept missing," Delgado said. "I felt fine last night and fine this morning. I was less nervous than I was for my first match, but I felt tight once the match started. He played a good, solid match, but nothing special. I've got to sit down and think about what happened in this match and learn from it.''

Lloyd did have one option when he lost Henman and Rusedski. That was to have recruited Chris Wilkinson, the British No 4 from Hampshire, who has been at odds with the LTA since Rusedski's arrival from Canada in 1995. Wilkinson appears to have informed everybody except Lloyd that he would like to play for his country again.

"He's got my phone number," Lloyd said "As far as I'm concerned he's unavailable. If you're asking if he was available would I have picked him, the answer is I wouldn't have picked him anyway."