Bates wise to spare Britain's young hopefuls in Austria

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At least the innocent were spared possible humiliation. Even though Britain lost to Austria 3-2 last weekend and remain in the second division of the Davis Cup, Jeremy Bates was wise to resist selecting either Alex Bogdanovic, a 20-year-old ATP Tour apprentice, or Andrew Murray, a 17-year-old junior Grand Slam champion.

To argue that Bogdanovic and Murray had nothing to lose against high-class opponents would be to overlook the casualty rate among promising British youngsters thrust into the limelight. James Baily, who disappeared without trace after winning the junior title at the 1993 Australian Open, is a case in point.

From this point on, however, Bates' hand as the captain will be forced by necessity. The 30-year-old Tim Henman and the 31-year-old Greg Rusedski no longer have the energy to be a two-man team. Bates knows it, Henman knows it, and Rusedski knows it.

"Alex and Andy are the future of the Davis Cup," Bates said. "I think next year or possibly the year after, they are going to be playing singles. Tim and Greg are not going to play forever.

"Boggo's inside the top 200 now. He's come a long way in the last 12 months, and I think a lot of it is up to him to want to step up and take their places.

"There are some other youngsters, such as Andy Banks, and the opportunity's there for them to step up. They've got all the ability that they need. Andy Murray's shown fantastic promise. If it had been right for him here, he would have played."

Since David Felgate, Henman's former coach, was appointed the Lawn Tennis Association's director of performance 18 months ago, there has been steady progress in the development of young male players - seven boys are ranked in the junior world top 100 - even though women's tennis in Britain continues to be an international joke.

On the men's side, the hope is that youngsters such as Murray, the US Open junior champion, and Miles Kasiri, a junior finalist at Wimbledon, will make inroads on the ATP tour by competing in satellite events. Britain do not play again in the Euro-African zone until after Wimbledon next July, which gives the youngsters time to respond to the challenge.

As Henman said: "We've got to see results, and we haven't got those results yet. But this is the best group we've had, and we've got to make the most of them."

Rusedski, while stopping short of hinting at retirement, made it plain that playing singles and doubles was no longer an option for him and Henman. "I'm looking forward to being part of the team in future," he said. "I'd be fine for doubles if the youngsters could help us in singles. We gave it our best shot, but Bogdanovic and Murray have got to take the pressure off us."

That was clear from the start of the World Group play-off here. Henman, the world No 4, was a major disappointment, showing none of the sharpness that took him to the semi-finals at both the French and US Opens.

Beaten by Stefan Koubek, the Austrian No 2, who started and finished the tie in style, Henman was unable to raise his game for the doubles, in which he and Rusedski failed to match the fresh legs of Julian Knowles and Alexander Peya.

Although Henman went on to defeat Jurgen Melzer and Rusedski did not allow a cut hand to prevent him from giving his best against Koubek, Bates' mind was already trained on whipping the potential reinforcements into shape.