Britain face further year in Davis Cup doldrums

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Britain's Davis Cup team will continue to forage in the Euro-African Zone for another year after failing to win promotion to the World Group against Austria here yesterday.

Austria won the weekend's play-off, 3-2, and will stay in the 16-strong first division of the premier men's international team competition. The tie was played in two days after Friday's opening singles matches were washed out, and Britain's Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were unable to take the strain of playing three matches each.

The doubles rubber was the crucial match, and Henman and Rusedski, a partnership previously unbeaten in eight ties, lost to Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya, of Austria, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. Play was suspended because of bad light on Saturday, with the Austrians leading, two sets to one, and Knowle and Peya finished the job in only 21 minutes yesterday.

Henman, who lost his opening singles against Stefan Koubek on Saturday, took the match to a deciding fifth rubber yesterday by defeating the Austrian No 1, Jurgen Melzer, 0-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2.

Rusedski, who had beaten Melzer in four sets on Saturday, lost the deciding rubber against Koubek, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. Rusedski, who injured his left hand during the doubles, had held three set points against Koubek in the first set, and also created chances in the second and third sets.

Koubek praised Rusedski's efforts, saying: "We thought everything would have to go through Tim Henman if we were to win, but he didn't play his best tennis. Greg was unbelievable. He played so well to beat Jurgen [Melzer], and I had a really tough time against him too. But I just kept believing in myself." The draw for the Euro-African Zone is due to take place next Thursday.