Britain face biggest loss as Argentina prove 'too good'

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The Independent Online

All the pre-match warnings about the hostile home crowd could hardly have been wider of the mark. "God save the Queen" was observed in impeccable silence before Britain's Davis Cup tie against Argentina here yesterday and when a Union flag was blown off its mast it was re-hoisted with appropriate speed. The watching Duchess of Gloucester must have approved wholeheartedly.

It was just a shame about the tennis. If Andy Murray's withdrawal last week from Britain's first match in the World Group for five years had all but ended their chances of success, the first day realised their worst fears. Jamie Baker gave a spirited performance in losing 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 to David Nalbandian in the opening singles, but Alex Bogdanovic's 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 defeat by Agustin Calleri raised the prospect of Britain's heaviest loss in 108 years of Davis Cup competition. "They were just too good for us," John Lloyd, the captain, admitted afterwards.

The previous lowest total of games won (41) was in 1981, when Buster Mottram and company failed to take a set off Guillermo Vilas and Jose-Luis Clerc here. The pressure is now on Jamie Murray and Ross Hutchins in today's doubles, which was always likely to offer Lloyd's team their best hope of success.

The 14,000-capacity Parque Roca was barely half full and apart from the occasional chorus of "Vamos, vamos, Argentina!" the crowd were generally subdued. Maybe it was because the 24C temperature and overcast conditions were more Wimbledon in June than Buenos Aires at the height of the southern hemisphere summer.

While the home team have a formidable record on their favoured clay courts, having won their last 10 matches in succession here, their supporters are used to tougher contests than this.

The day's biggest cheer came as Nalbandian, with lunchtime approaching, served at 2-2 in the third set and a fan shouted out: "Vamos, David, que ya tenemos hambre!" ("Come on David, we're hungry!")

One banner read, "In 86 it was the Hand of God, in 08 it's David's", but Diego Maradona, who has been a Davis Cup cheerleader in the past, was absent and the watching Gabriela Sabatini did not take on his mantle. Baker admitted afterwards that he had not been nervous and indeed would have preferred a more hostile atmosphere. "The louder the better, no matter who the crowd is supporting," he said.

The 21-year-old Glaswegian, nevertheless, could be satisfied with his day's work. Attempting to bridge 226 places in the world rankings, Baker rallied well after Nalbandian took the first five games for the loss of only five points.

Baker initially had trouble dealing with the weight of Nalbandian's shots, but after winning his first game the British No 3's confidence grew.

The second and third sets were much tighter. In the second the world No 9 broke to lead 5-2 before dropping his own serve for the first time in the following game. Baker recovered from an early break in the third, but hit two double faults to drop his serve again at 3-4. "I only played two bad games, at 4-2 in the second set and 4-3 in the third," Baker said. "I was 30-0 up in that game but then I gave him two or three cheap points in a row. You can't do that against a player of Nalbandian's class."

He added: "I was excited by the whole experience and I can't wait to get more of it. I loved the feeling on the court.

"I'm used to playing on courts that don't even have any seats. I think I took my game to a new level. If you look at the difference in our rankings I think I did pretty well." Calleri, the world No 41, looked marginally the more nervous of the two players at the start of the second rubber, but from 3-3 in the first set, Bogdanovic lost 14 of the next 17 games.

While Calleri upped the tempo after the first set, it was an all too familiar result for Bogdanovic, who has repeatedly failed to raise his game on the biggest stages. It remains to be seen how many more chances the world No 188 will be given, but the depressing truth for Lloyd is that he is not exactly spoilt for choice. Andy Murray's return to the national ranks cannot come soon enough.

Davis Cup World Group (Buenos Aires): D Nalbandian (Arg) bt J Baker (GB) 6-1, 6-3, 6-3; A Calleri (Arg) bt A Bogdanovic (GB), 6-3, 6-2, 6-1. Today: Nalbandian and J Acasuso v J Murray and R Hutchins. Tomorrow: reverse singles.