Bates opts for stalwarts as Rusedski shows fitness

Britain's Davis Cup captain decided to rely upon Greg Rusedski alongside Tim Henman against Austria in the World Group play-off.

The draw was made in a casino, but Jeremy Bates was not prepared to gamble. Britain's Davis Cup captain looked, listened, and decided to rely upon Greg Rusedski alongside Tim Henman against Austria in the World Group play-off in a beautiful lakeside setting here.

Insisting he had "not been afraid" to select either the 20-year-old Alex Bogdanovic or the 17-year-old Andrew Murray - "I was very tempted, and they will have their chance soon" - Bates stood by the status quo. The 31-year-old Rusedski's form in training showed he was fit, and what Rusedski had to say convinced Bates that his No 2 player was the man for the job.

"I'm up for playing the three matches," Rusedski told Bates at a selection meeting, and the captain was convinced. "This is the old Greg," Bates said. "I haven't seen him as motivated as this for a long time. Alex and Andy were disappointed when I told them," he added, "but we can win this tie and I have to go with my strongest team."

Bogdanovic, who lost his funding from the Lawn Tennis Association because he was not considered to have tried hard enough, responded manfully, reaching the final of the Nottingham Challenger and winning the Manchester Challenger.

Murray has won three ITF Futures tournaments and, earlier this month, became the first Briton ever to win the US Open junior title.

Today, the 30-year-old Henman will open the tie against Stefan Koubek, Austria's No 2, and Rusedski will then play Jürgen Melzer, Austria's No 1.

In tomorrow's doubles, Henman and Rusedski will play Melzer and Julian Knowle, who was a doubles finalist on Wimbledon's lawns in July but admits that clay is not his favourite surface.

The captains are allowed to change their teams up to an hour before the start. Likewise, the selection for Sunday's reverse singles - Henman v Melzer, Rusedski v Koubek - can be changed up to an hour before the start.

"Injuries are always a possibility," Bates said, "and I made it clear during our preparation for this match that I was keeping an open mind about selection, and all four players were playing for places.

"I didn't know what shape Greg would be in when he arrived from Florida [after reaching the quarter-finals in Delray Beach], but he was fit and played well in practice. He told me he wanted to play and that he was also keen to help the younger players.

"I'm pleased with Alex and Andy, but you can tell sometimes by looking at young players if they are feeling pressure. Greg's serve is a big weapon, and he can beat Koubek. I'm not sure whether Alex and Andy are ready yet to beat Koubek. Like Melzer, he is a level above Alex and Andy at the moment. But it won't be long before they get their chance."

A year ago, during Britain's unsuccessful World Group play-off in Morocco, Rusedski received a telephone call telling him he had tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone. He kept the news to himself and was an emotional and physical wreck before the end of the match, barely able to compete in the deciding fifth rubber against Hicham Arazi.

After the story broke shortly before the Australian Open in January, Rusedski spent the next three months fighting the drugs charge, and was exonerated by an independent tribunal. "I'm glad that's behind me," Rusedski said. "I'm a lot better, mentally and physically, and feel relaxed."

Thomas Muster, who is making his debut as Austria's captain, said he was not surprised by Bates' selection. "Henman is playing well," he said. "He reached the semi-finals on clay at the French Open, and was also in the semi-finals at the US Open. And Greg is on the comeback trail and has had some good results."

Melzer, who is currently ranked No 30 in the world, has defeated both Henman and Rusedski this year, and Koubek, ranked No 81, beat Henman on clay in Munich last year.

The Austrians believe that home advantage and a slow clay court will give them an edge, but Henman's overall confidence, Rusedski's rejuvenation and the fact that two promising young compatriots are at their heels, have brought a feeling of well-being to the British camp.

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