Bates wrestles with Murray cup conundrum

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The Independent Online

Accepting that Federer, barring an upset that would shake Barons Court to its foundations, is likely to win his two singles matches in the World Group qualifying round, which starts tomorrow at the Palexpo, Britain's captain, Jeremy Bates, has to find a way to beat Wawrinka twice, while also winning the doubles.

Clay is the 20-year-old Wawrinka's favourite surface, although he did well enough on the concrete courts at Flushing Meadows to reach the US Open third round, lifting his world ranking to No 60. Andy Murray is the only member of the British squad to have developed his game on clay, though he prefers concrete.

Tim Henman's retirement from the Davis Cup, has presented Bates with tactical options. Whereas a year ago team selection was a simple matter of naming Henman and Greg Rusedski for three days' hard labour, Bates will today provide the answer to a conundrum.

Will he send out his two best players, the 32-year-old Rusedski and the 18-year-old Murray, on a three-day mission, starting tomorrow with Murray against Federer and Rusedski against Wawrinka?

Or will he sacrifice Alan Mackin to Federer and trust that Murray, on his Davis Cup singles debut, will level the opening day's results by beating Wawrinka before partnering Rusedski against Federer and Yves Allegro in Saturday's doubles? That would leave Murray to face Federer on Sunday, with Rusedski playing the final rubber against Wawrinka.

Or will Bates rest Murray tomorrow and hope that Rusedski defeats Wawrinka, Rusedski and Murray win the doubles, and Murray wins the concluding singles against Wawrinka?

"You're looking at where your most likely points are and where you've got tougher opposition to play," Bates said. "Federer obviously is a formidable opponent, one of the best this game has ever seen.

"But if you're a professional sportsman, you come here to win. It doesn't matter who you're playing against, whether that's the best player in the world or somebody ranked 1,000 in the world, it makes no difference at all. Federer has only lost three times this year, but he has lost."

Asked if he was surprised the Swiss had decided to play on clay, which is not Federer's surface of choice, Bates said: "I was a little surprised. But we haven't played at home for three years, and the majority of times when we play away, we play on clay." Smiling, Bates added: "But Roger is reasonably versatile, I'd say."

* Serena Williams was humbled 6-2, 7-6 by Sun Tiantian at the China Open in Beijing yesterday. The defending champion went down after a flurry of embarrassing errors against the Chinese wild card, ranked 118 places below her at No 127 in the world.