Tennis : Rusedski steadies British wobble

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The Independent Online
A huge sigh of relief swept around the David Lloyd Tennis Centre here yesterday when Britain took a 2-1 lead against Slovenia after winning the doubles in their Euro-African Zone Group 2 tie. Greg Rusedski ought to complete victory when he plays the Slovenian No 1, Iztok Bozic, in the first of today's reverse singles.

Rusedski made his Davis Cup doubles debut yesterday, partnering Neil Broad to success against the 17-year-old Gregor Krusic and Borut Urh, 7-6 6-2 6-3. It was a triumph born in Canada and South Africa, but rarely has one been so welcomed by the home country.

Bozic, who put immense pressure on Britain by defeating Mark Petchey in the second singles match on Friday night, was a mere spectator as his team-mates endeavoured to take the lead in the tie yesterday, and for a time it appeared that Krusic and Urh might succeed.

The proceedings turned on the first-set tie-break, and, it must be said, Slovenia ought to have done real damage to British morale before succumbing.

Not only did the visitors create the only break point in the 40 minutes' play leading up to the shoot-out, but they then held three set-points. Broad was the player who came close to losing his serve in the eighth game, hitting successive double faults to encourage the Slovenians in their attacks. Urh delivered a backhand volley to give his team the first glimmer of hope, but Rusedski was fortunate to salvage the situation for Britain with a winning backhand volley.

The next crisis also came when Broad was serving, this time in the tie- break. He netted a forehand from a driven return by Urh to give the Slovenians a 4-2 lead, which Krusic built upon to serve to 6-3 and the opportunity of three set points.

Rusedski's serves limited the options on the first two, Broad saving the first with a backhand volley and his partner the second with his fifth ace. But the Slovenians could only blame themselves when the third chance went astray, Urh netting with an edgy backhand volley from a Rusedski service return.

Krusic was then culpable in handing Britain the one chance they required, hitting a backhand volley out from Broad's drive, and Rusedski gleefully converted the set-point for 8-6 with a smash, letting out a yell even before he made contact.

So after 50 anxious minutes, Britain gained the initiative, and 10 minutes later they were 3-0 ahead in the second set.

The Slovenians were rarely allowed to raise their performance at this stage and Urh lost his serve to love in the eighth game, helped by Rusedski's splendid forehand down the line on the fourth point. The set was over in a mere 18 minutes, Britain conceding only one point in their four service games. The culprit was Rusedski, at 40-0 in the opening game - but that was only the sixth point he had dropped in four service games plus the tie-break. And he did not concede another, finishing the job with an ace after an hour and 41 minutes.