Baker offers bright spot on dark weekend for Britain

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The Independent Online

Home Davis Cup defeats are as rare as vegetarian restaurants in these parts and from the moment Andy Murray pulled out of the British team to play Argentina here this weekend John Lloyd and his team were dead meat. "The bottom line is that with Andy in the side we're a World Group team," Roger Draper, the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive, admitted before the start of yesterday's play. "Without him we're not."

If there was some comfort to be derived from the final day's dead rubbers, Jamie Baker (world No 235) recording an excellent 7-6, 6-4 victory over Agustin Calleri (41) and Alex Bogdanovic (188) leading in both sets before losing 7-5, 7-5 to Jose Acasuso (50), Britain's total of 43 games – only 20 of which were won in live rubbers – was their second lowest in 108 years of Davis Cup competition.

"It's been a painful few days," Draper said. "There's nothing worse than watching other people spray champagne around the court."

The defeat means that Britain will go into a play-off in September to decide whether they will stay in the World Group next year, having only just regained their place among the elite after a five-year absence. They will learn the identity of their opponents in April, but with a Novak Djokovic-led Serbia among their possible adversaries it will be crucial that Lloyd has his strongest team available. While Jamie Murray did not hold back last week in criticising his brother, who pulled out after complaining of a recurring knee problem but is playing this week in Marseilles, Draper defended the British game's biggest attraction.

"While we wanted Andy here, it's also important for British tennis that he's a top 10 player and in the news every week, winning tournaments and hopefully Grand Slam events in the future," he said.

Changes are being made to encourage the top players to represent their countries – ranking points will soon be awarded for Davis Cup results and from next year ties will be played in the weeks immediately after the Australian and US Opens – but whether this will be enough to win over the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who also declined national duty this weekend, remains to be seen. Draper would like more sweeping reforms.

"We have enough problems sorting out British tennis without worrying about world tennis, but I think it would be good to get it sorted out," he said. "My personal view is that it would be fantastic if we could make the Davis Cup like the [football] World Cup and stage it every two or four years, at a single venue, and make it a really big festival."

Draper ruled out a suggestion that the LTA might offer Murray additional financial incentives and preferred to look at longer-term solutions.

"The plan is to get five more Andy Murrays coming through and then we wouldn't have the problem," he said. "Look at the Argentinians. When Juan Monaco pulled out they had someone else of high quality they could bring in."

If Saturday's doubles provided some consolation – Jamie Murray, who was outstanding, and Ross Hutchins, had three set points in the second set before losing 6-2, 7-6, 6-0 to David Nalbandian and Acasuso – there was further encouragement yesterday from the performance of Baker. The 21-year-old, may lack the physical attributes and natural flair of some of Britain's other up-and-coming players, but if they could match his attitude and appetite for hard work the national game would be in a much healthier state.

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