Bates wants Woodward to help boost Davis Cup hopes

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The Independent Online

Even 28 floors above London's Park Lane, Clive Woodward and his England Rugby World Cup squad became part of the discussion as an assortment of senior tennis champions and their current rivals moved into town for the Honda Challenge which opens today at the Royal Albert Hall.

Jeremy Bates, the former British No 1 who becomes the Davis Cup captain on 1 January, was in no doubt that he would like an early meeting with Woodward. "I think it would be great if you could go and talk to Clive Woodward. Obviously, they have got to take the trophy around and I am sure everyone wants to see them at the moment," Bates said. "It would be very good to spend some time with him and talk to him. They have become so professional in their unit in the course of the last five years, totally professional and dedicated, and it is a tribute to the work they have put in.

"I didn't see the extra time in the final because I had to take my son to his football match. I saw the rest of the match and it was wonderful, absolutely amazing. You can learn a lot from what they have achieved. It gives everybody a bit of a feel-good factor. The pressure was on them to perform because they had beaten those countries in so-called friendly matches, and a lot of questioners were asking, 'Can they do it when it matters?' England always believed in what they could do and set an example for everyone in other sports, no question."

Bates will be out on his own when he opens the singles in the Honda Challenge against the three-times Wimbledon champion and current seniors tour leader, John McEnroe, this afternoon. Bates looked a picture of fitness at the tournament launch at the London Hilton while McEnroe, unshaven, peaked cap reversed, dark blue overcoat pulled up at the collar, looked less inspiring after an overnight flight from New York.

"I spent five days in New York for Thanksgiving," he said. "It's an important time for Americans to be at home."

Bates added: "I played McEnroe in August at Val de Lobo on an outdoor hard court. I won the first set, he won the second, and he won the tie-break. I always wanted to play him on the regular tour and I managed it once towards the end of his career, in Washington in July, 1992. I've already played him three times on the senior tour. We split sets in all of them but I lost the tie-breaker each time.

"I've played slightly more this year than usual. I got asked a couple of months ago to play this tournament and it's terrific. The chance to play at the Albert Hall again is great, it is tremendous fun, very enjoyable, a great place to play tennis.

"It's a different type of crowd there. Obviously there is a slightly more social element, people are enjoying their meal and their wine, and we are still playing tennis. But there is a very good interaction between playing there and the people who are watching."

The Davis Cup task firmly beckons Bates. "The first of January is when it officially starts," he said, "but obviously I am in contact with the players all the time and preparations for the next match will start as soon as we know who we are playing, whether it's home or away. There are so many things to go into. Everyone is in good order, Tim [Henman] has just had a break and is practising again, Greg [Rusedski] has been practising hard and all the other guys are out training in La Manga."

In the round-robin stage of the Honda Challenge, Bates' group includes Guy Forget, of France, with whom he had an epic battle for a quarter-final place at Wimbledon in 1992, and the Swede Mats Wilander. The other group comprises Boris Becker and Michael Stich, of Germany, both former Wimbledon champions, Henri Leconte, of France, and Mikael Pernfors, of Sweden. Petr Korda, who beat Stich in last year's final, is not defending the title because of injury but the 44-year-old McEnroe warned: "It is tough for all of us to play five days in a row. You have to prepare for a war of attrition."

HONDA CHALLENGE ORDER OF PLAY

Today: 1.00pm M Bahrami and B Cowan v J Kriek and I Nastase; J Bates v J McEnroe;M Pernfors v M Stich. 7.30pm: B Becker v H Leconte; A Croft and J Lloyd v Cowan and V Wade; G Forget v M Wilander.

Tomorrow: 1.00pm: Becker v Stich; Bahrami/Kriek v Cowan/Nastase; Bates v Wilander. 7.30pm: Forget v McEnroe. Exhibition Match: T Henman v R Schüttler. Leconte v Pernfors.

Friday: 1.00pm: McEnroe v Wilander; Bahrami/Cowan v Kriek/Nastase; Leconte v Stich. 7.30pm: Becker v Pernfors; Bahrami/Kriek v Lloyd/Nastase; Bates v Forget.

Saturday: 1.00pm: Men's Singles Semi-Final; Men's Doubles match. 7.30pm: Men's Singles Semi-Final; Men's Doubles match.

Sunday: 1.30pm: Men's Singles Final; Men's Doubles match.

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