Tennis: Teenager Hilton in cup call

MARK HILTON, a 17-year-old from Mickle Trafford, near Chester, jointly ranked No 26 in Britain and No 1,107 in the world with four other players, will take his place alongside Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski in the Davis Cup squad for first round of the World Group against the United States in Birmingham at Easter.

Although Hilton's prospects of a place in the team rest on a catastrophic set of circumstances - injury or illness striking Henman, Rusedski, Neil Broad and Scotland's Miles Maclagan - his inclusion is recognition for a spirited performance at last year's National Championships in the absence of the Big Two. Hilton's encouraging run at Telford was ended in the final, when the diminutive left-hander was comfortably defeated by the 29-year- old Danny Sapsford, ranked No 526.

David Lloyd, Britain's captain, had been tempted to include Andrew Richardson, who did a splendid job when injuries ruled Henman and Rusedski out of the tie against Zimbabwe at Crystal Palace in 1997, but the tall left- hander from Lincolnshire ruined his chances by refusing a wild card for last month's Guardian Direct Cup at Battersea because he did not consider he merited it.

The bonus for Lloyd at Battersea was the spectacle of Henman and Rusedski winning their first ATP Tour doubles title together, though this could not disguise the captain's concern about the lack of reinforcements as Britain prepare to make a serious challenge for the trophy, having last reached the final in 1978 when Lloyd and his brother David were in the team beaten by the United States in California. "The gap is getting wider and wider," the captain said. "It's a worry when you have got two superstars and nothing else."

Lloyd plans to pick Henman and Rusedski for singles and doubles. This depends how they feel after the two opening singles matches on the the first of the three days at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena. Should either need a rest, Broad will step in for the Saturday doubles.

Broad, 32, partnered Henman when Britain won the silver medal for doubles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. They were defeated by the Australian doubles specialists Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. Broad also partnered Henman against India last September. The British pair lost, but Henman and Rusedski secured victory in the reverse singles.

Maclagan, 24, has been unable to fulfil the promise he showed as a junior but can be an awkward opponent. Ranked No 5 in Britain and No 291 in the world, he has been selected ahead of Hampshire's Chris Wilkinson and Barry Cowan, of Lancashire.

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