Alex Bogdanovic is such a regular at the last chance saloon that his drink is probably poured the moment he enters the door. John Lloyd might have preferred to call last orders on his great underachiever long ago, but such is the dearth of talent at his disposal that Britain's Davis Cup captain yesterday named the world No 172 as his second singles player for next month's World Group relegation play-off against Austria at Wimbledon.
Britain's fate will rest in the hands of Bogdanovic and Andy Murray, who will play the singles rubbers, and Jamie Murray and Ross Hutchins, two doubles specialists. Lloyd will keep his options open on his doubles pairing, with Hutchins and the Murray brothers all in contention, but has firmly put his faith in Bogdanovic in the singles. Having contemplated naming a six-man squad, he will instead bring in two juniors as practice partners.
Austria's singles players are likely to be Jurgen Melzer, the world No 48, who plays Andy Murray here today in the third round of the US Open, and Alexander Peya, the world No 92. Melzer will also pair up with Julian Knowle, who is ranked world No 10 in doubles. Presuming that Andy Murray wins his two singles – by no means a foregone conclusion – and given that the Austrians will probably be marginal favourites in the doubles, Lloyd will probably need Bogdanovic to win one of his rubbers.
The 24-year-old's natural talent has long been recognised, but he has repeatedly failed to rise to the big occasion. Bogdanovic has had wild cards at the last seven Wimbledons and lost in the first round on each occasion, while he has not won a set in four live Davis Cup rubbers. Against Argentina in Buenos Aires six months ago he took only five games off Agustin Calleri.
Having been on the brink of the world's top 100 a year ago, Bogdanovic recently fell as low as No 271 in the rankings. He has been working this year with Brad Gilbert following the American coach's split with Andy Murray and his results have shown some improvement of late. Last month he won a Challenger tournament in Canada.
"He's fired up, he wants to play, he wants to go out and show what he can do," Lloyd said. "We think that he can play well in Davis Cup. He's had a few experiences that he hasn't enjoyed as much as we would have liked him to, but we think he can change that around."
Jamie Baker is still recovering from a serious blood disorder, while Lloyd rejected the claims of Josh Goodall (world No 198) and Richard Bloomfield (289). Chris Eaton, who, as the world No 661, beat a player ranked 547 places above him when he knocked out Boris Pashanski in the first round at Wimbledon, came as close as anyone to dislodging Bogdanovic.
Lloyd will be watching closely as his leading man takes on Melzer here today. Murray won in three sets in their only previous meeting, at Indian Wells earlier this year. "He's a tough guy to play against and doesn't give you too much rhythm," Murray said. "But I feel like I'm playing well just now. I'm confident and I look forward to the match."
Melzer described Murray as "very dangerous" and added: "He's very different from many of the other players on the tour. When the ball is your side of the court, his body language suggests that he does not have much energy. But when the ball is his side, he bursts into action and covers the court extremely well. He is a classic counter-puncher. He tries to make you fall asleep by playing lots of very long rallies. Hopefully, I won't fall asleep against him."
"We had a close match earlier this year, but I still believe I have the game to beat him. I have to serve very well as he's one of the best returners in the game. That could be the key. I think I can do it."
In theory, Murray's seeding here will see him face Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round and David Ferrer in the quarter-finals, the winner to face Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
Nadal, who has been beaten only once in his last 41 matches, looked tired and drawn in his first match but swept into the third round with the minimum of fuss on Thursday night, beating the American qualifier Ryler DeHeart 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The new world No 1, who won the Olympic title in Beijing only 13 days ago, prepared for this tournament by playing golf. "I forgot a little bit about tennis," he said.