The win keeps the Henman-Rusedski combination flying with a 100 per cent record as a doubles combination. They have now played seven times together, three times on Davis Cup duty and four times in winning at Battersea in February, and are developing into quite a team.
In contrast, the United States chose to go with a duo who had never played Davis Cup together before - and it showed. They took a calculated gamble in playing Todd Martin, injured stomach muscle and all, alongside Alex O'Brien, and it backfired when he flagged badly. There could be worse news for them today, since Martin is first on court against Henman. Britain's captain David Lloyd forecast yesterday morning that if we won the doubles Britain would win the whole thing.
And he was thinking just as positively afterwards. "We should have won in four sets but in a way five sets was good for us because I thought Todd was getting a little tired," he said. "Greg and Tim are really an excellent pair; they combine so well I think they could win Wimbledon. They have that natural movement and in some of the quick rallies looked as if they had played so many times togther, rather than just seven."
Henman, who called the crowd's support "phenomenal", also faces the fatigue factor. Although, having played 10 sets in two days, he will be back in action at lunchtime today he insisted "I don't foresee any problem. I am ready whatever."
The Americans announced their decision to play Martin instead of Jim Courier an hour before the start and at first it looked an inspired decision. Martin did not concede a single point on serve in the opening set, which the Americans wrapped up in 31 minutes when Henman was broken on net play of pure genius by Martin, who then served out commandingly. Britain had by then already had their chances, having spurned four break points in the seventh game.
The small knot of supporters flourishing Stars and Stripes were ecstatic but their joy was short-lived. The British began to assemble their act much more impressively behind the rock-solid serving of Rusedski, with David Lloyd egging on the crowd to get behind their boys. They needed little urging. There was pandemonium as Britain conjured a break point, again in the sixth game, but O'Brien, a man with the pugnacious bearing of Brad Gilbert, rescued it with a volley.
The audience were savouring every prospect of peril for the Americans and when O'Brien, serving to keep the United States in the second set, floundered into trouble the noise was cranked up to an unprecedented level. As Henman brought Britain to double set point with a thunderous smash, rattles, whistles and klaxons were sounded and though a Henman forehand error saved one set point, an O'Brien forehand into the netting - the first break point Britain had capitalised on out of seven - levelled the match after 73 minutes.
If Henman had been involved before, he was now positively hyper, clenching his fists with every winning point. The Americans were so dismayed that the next time they served they were broken again. This time it was the previously flawless Martin who was guilty and signs of fatigue were clearly creeping into his game as he double-faulted and then netted a half-volley. So Britain were away to a 2-0 start to the third set, a lead which they never seemed likely to relinquish with their play now at the very highest level. There was a spring in the British step now, with smashes being put away slam-dunk fashion before Rusedski served out to love to put Britain two sets to one up. The home pair had allowed the Americans a mere five points on serve in the third set.
The tension was raised another notch in a nerve-shredding fourth set as the Americans saved a pair of break points at 2-2 before the set moved into a tie-break. As Britain went 3-1 ahead an early night looked in prospect but two backhand volleying errors, one by Greg and one by Tim, enabled the United States to get their noses in front and win the tie-break by seven points to five. Once more it was all square.
All now depended on a quick break of serve, and it went to Britain. The American pair saved three break points on the O'Brien serve before a thunderous Rusedski forehand spun into the crowd off the frame of Martin's racket. Now the road lay invitingly open and the confident home pair strode up it, fending off any attempt at counter-strike until it came time for Rusedski to serve for the victory which breathed life into the weekend of drama.
How fitting it was that his racket should propel Britain to the win. He was the only one not to drop serve and he conceded only 14 points on serve in five sets, a truly remarkable performance. Friday was forgotten.Reuse content