Czech test on clay beckons Britain

BRITAIN'S DREAD of playing on slow clay courts gave the Czech Republic a technical and psychological edge, along with home advantage, when the draw for next year's Davis Cup World Group was made in London yesterday.

BRITAIN'S DREAD of playing on slow clay courts gave the Czech Republic a technical and psychological edge, along with home advantage, when the draw for next year's Davis Cup World Group was made in London yesterday.

The Czechs are almost certain to lay clay indoors as a welcome mat for Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski when the teams meet in the opening round in the first week of February. The winners will play the United States, provided the Americans have a successful trip to Zimbabwe.

Henman and Rusedski are at their best when serve-volleying on faster courts, such as grass, indoor carpet, or medium-paced concrete. The encouraging aspect is that both men have worked hard in the past two seasons to adapt to clay, which suits competitors who construct their points predominantly from the back of the court.

In Henman's case, his improvement on clay was seen in his victories this year against two of the Czech players. He defeated Daniel Vacek at the Italian Open and Jiri Novak at the French Open.

Although world rankings cannot always be taken as a guide, Henman, No 6, and Rusedski, No 8, have established themselves among the top-level competitors on the ATP Tour. Novak, No 35, is the highest ranked Czech, followed by Vacek, who is No 51.

The current Czech players have more to live up to than their British opponents. Along with Italy and Sweden, the Czech Republic have competed in the World Group in every year since it began in 1981. The Czechs won the Davis Cup in 1980, having been runners-up to Sweden in 1975, and were semi-finalists in 1984, '85, '86, and '96.

DAVIS CUP WORLD GROUP 2000 First-round draw: Zimbabwe v United States; Czech Republic v Great Britain; Spain v Italy; Russia v Belgium; Slovakia v Austria; Brazil v France; Germany v Netherlands; Switzerland v Australia. (Matches to be played 4-6 February).

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