Britain find debut heroes in Murray and Sherwood

Andrew Murray and David Sherwood, who had not exchanged more than a brief hello until they arrived here last week, were bonded in the annals of British Davis Cup history last night after a heroic winning debut against Israel.

Andrew Murray and David Sherwood, who had not exchanged more than a brief hello until they arrived here last week, were bonded in the annals of British Davis Cup history last night after a heroic winning debut against Israel.

By closing their minds to a home crowd who booed and whistled every time they prepared to serve and prevailing against Israel's world-class doubles team of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, 6-4, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, the new boys figuratively lifted Greg Rusedski into the driving seat, urging him to complete the triumph today and drive Britain into a World Group play-off.

If the 31-year-old Rusedski is able to reproduce the form he showed in beating Harel Levy on the opening day he ought to be too strong for Noam Okun, the Israeli No 1, in the first reverse singles.

The display of Murray, the US Open junior champion and the nation's youngest-ever Davis Cup player at 17 years and 294 days, was all the more remarkable considering that he had never before played more than three sets.

Sherwood, from Sheffield, the 24-year-old son of the Olympians John and Sheila Sherwood, also rose the challenge of taking Britain into the final day of the tie with a 2-1 lead. Sherwood recalled having played four-set matches twice before, but not at this level of the game.

"They've come up with the match of a lifetime today," Jeremy Bates, Britain's captain, said after disengaging himself from the team's celebratory jig on the court.

Bates admitted that he had been tempted to play Rusedski in the doubles after the disappointment of Alex Bogdanovic's defeat on Friday that left the tie poised at 1-1 after the opening singles. "But I didn't consider making a change for long," Bates emphasised. "We came here to build for the future, and we wanted Greg to play two singles. I had faith in Andy and David. You can see who wants to play. You can see the sparkle in their eyes."

Murray, from Scotland, listened to a tape of The Proclaimers' "500 Miles" while walking on court for the opening ceremony - "it's what they play when Hibs, my team, score a goal," he said - and refused to be intimidated by the crowd. "I play tennis to play in front of crowds like that," he said. "It was a bit tough at times, but it was not the crowd's fault. The referee should have warned them sooner than he did."

The warning to the crowd eventually came as Sherwood was about to make a second serve on the third match point. "To say something at that point after we'd been on court for more than three hours was a joke," said Bates.

Murray and Sherwood had kept the 5,000 spectators fairly quiet by dominating the opening set and winning the second set tie-break, 7-5, from 4-1 down.

The noise level increased, however, after Sherwood double-faulted to lose his serve at 1-1 in the third set, and became frantic after Murray was broken at 1-3. Ram and Erlich romped through the remainder of the set and broke Sherwood to lead 2-1 in the fourth set.

Suddenly, as British optimism began to wane, the drama took another twist. Erlich, serving at 5-4 to level the match, was broken by Murray's forehand lob. Sherwood was unable to hold in the next game, but took the set to a tie-break by breaking Ram with a backhand return after the Israelis had held two set points.

Having been on the receiving end for longer than was comfortable, the Britons recovered the form they had displayed in the opening set. They swept to a 5-1 lead in the second tie-break. Murray's service winner produced match points at 6-3, and Sherwood converted the third and silenced the boos and whistles when Ram returned his second serve into the net for 7-5 to bring the duel to a close after three hours and 22 minutes.

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