Tennis: Top pair serve up new era

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THE next important date in the annals of British tennis comes on Thursday at the Queen's Club in London when the Davis Cup team go into the draw for the qualifying round for the 16-strong World Group. This was guaranteed here yesterday when Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman won the doubles rubber to guarantee victory against Ukraine after two days.

The British pair, whose recent differences were patched up in the cause of national unity, combined to defeat Andrei Medvedev and Andrei Rybalko, 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 after an hour and 54 minutes. Both teams changed the announced pairings, David Lloyd, the British captain, deciding to send out Henman with Rusedski, the left-hander with the fastest serve ever recorded, rather than Neil Broad, with whom Henman won the Olympic Games silver medal in Atlanta, and Ukraine favoured Rybalko over Dimitri Poliakov, who lost the doubles with Medvedev when the teams met in Kiev last July.

Lloyd, keen to complete the job as quickly as possible, favoured Rusedski and Henman to possess too much pace for the Ukrainians. Explaining his change of selection, Lloyd said: "I wanted to see Tim and Greg play together again. We have to look to the future. I was actually going to swap them round and get Greg to play on the left side in the second set, but John [Lloyd, the captain's brother, who coaches the team] advised against it so I left them as they were."

Although Medvedev's skill and power was evident during the three sets yesterday, the Ukrainians contrived only one break point, as late as 2-3 with Rusedski serving in the third set. Rusedski netted a low backhand volley, to present the opportunity and was relieved when Medvedev was unable to convert it and then netted a second service return.

Before that interlude of Ukrainian aggression, the Britons dictated the course of play, breaking Rybalko to take a 4-3 lead in the opening set, when the Ukrainian No 2 directed a forehand over the baseline on the fourth break. Henman, who lost only seven points in seven service games, contributed two of his four double faults at 4-3 in the opening set, but rescued the situation and won the set with a smash after 32 minutes.

Medvedev survived a breakpoint in the opening game of the second set, but his partner was unable to keep his team in the set after double-faulting for 0-40 at 5-5. Henman converted the first break point with a forehand second service return and secured a 2-0 lead with a rather fortunate forehand lob to the corner.

Rusedski was in the wars in the third set as Britain went for the kill. In the fifth game he was struck on the side of the head by a shot from Medvedev, turning the incident into a joke by making as if to strike the Ukrainian with his racket at the changeover. Rusedski then accidentally deflected the ball at Henman while trying to return a Medvedev serve in the ninth game. An apology and smiles all round repaired the damage.

When it came to the tie-break the Ukrainians saved four match points and created one set point before Rybalko double faulted for 9-11.