Tennis: Trepidation in Delhi

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The Independent Online
FROM THE sublime to the difficult. Tony Pickard, who could have enjoyed the reflected glory of having coached Stefan Edberg to victory in the US Open last week, instead has the far more demanding task of upholding British tennis prestige. Captain Bligh probably set off in his rowing boat with less trepidation than Captain Pickard.

He leads a British team meeting India in New Delhi on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with their place in the World Group at stake. Defeat and they will return to Euro-African Zone One, only a year after they escaped from a four-year spell there.

A 5-0 defeat by France in Narbonne earlier this year has made the journey east necessary and, in theory at least, the task should just about be manageable, which, like the Scottish football team, is often a prelude to disappointment. On paper the result may be a formality but on the ground it will probably be far from it.

On the plus side, the match is being played on grass, which would be Britain's chosen surface, and some of the Indian players wallow so low in the world rankings that even Mark Petchey's 240th place is regarded with envy. Ramesh Krishnan, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon and the US Open, is India's best ranked player at 203, while Leander Paes is 253rd, Zeeshan Ali 433rd and Gaurav Natekar a distant 734th.

So much for the good news. The most obvious disadvantage for the British is the heat. New Delhi was suffering a cold spell this week with the temperature just above 80F, but the humidity will be debilitating.

There is also the crowd. A Davis Cup tie in Britain may bring in a derisory number of spectators, but the Indian public caught the Davis Cup bug when their team reached the final five years ago and next weekend's match will be shown live on television throughout the sub-continent. A further measure of the importance the hosts attach to the match can be gauged by the fact that Thursday's draw will take place in the prime minister's residence.

'It's not going to be an easy match,' Pickard, who left with the team on Thursday, said. 'Certainly it would be foolish to draw conclusions from the rankings. The heat will be a problem but we've given ourselves a week to acclimatise and David Felgate (trainer) has been working with the players while I was in America. They should be as well prepared as they can be.

'It won't be a catastrophe if we lose, I don't think in terms of catastrophe about tennis matches, but it is important for British tennis for us to stay in the world group. It gives us another year to improve our standards, to give our players an opportunity to meet top players.'

Much will depend on Jeremy Bates, whose performance at Wimbledon plus a win over John McEnroe in Washington have pushed him to 94th in the world. Bates has a Davis Cup record of played 29, won 16, and if the second figure is 18 by next Sunday evening Britain will almost certainly have won.

GREAT BRITAIN (v India, New Delhi): J Bates (singles ranking 94, doubles 81); N Broad (653, 66); M Petchey (240, 190); C Wilkinson (177, 258). Reserve: C Bailey (247, 508).

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