Defeat adds to Murray's heavy load

Having already become used to shouldering the weight of national expectations at Wimbledon, Andy Murray is now discovering what it is like to be the cornerstone of the country's Davis Cup hopes.

Twenty-four hours after Murray had levelled the match against Israel by beating Andy Ram in a five-set thriller lasting nearly three hours, the British No 1 was back on court here at Devonshire Park alongside Jamie Delgado for yesterday's doubles encounter with Ram and Jonathan Erlich, one of the world's leading pairs. It was another five-set nail-biter, but after three hours and 16 minutes of wonderfully entertaining tennis the Israelis won 3-6 6-3 5-7 6-3 6-4.

Britain will have to win both of today's reverse singles to take the tie and avoid having to travel to Ukraine in September for a play-off to decide who will be relegated from Group One of the Europe-Africa Zone.

Murray was beginning to look tired by the end and was also suffering with a neck injury sustained after one of his many dives around the court. He is due first on court today against Noam Okun ­ Alex Bogdanovic is then scheduled to play Ram ­ but said he would have to see how his neck is feeling this morning. The Scot is planning to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow to begin his summer campaign on American hard courts.

Murray has clearly relished his role as the country's leading hope. Tim Henman has retired from Davis Cup tennis, while Greg Rusedski, who is missing this tie through injury, will be 33 in September and must be nearing the end of his playing days.

It was only 16 months ago that the Scot made his Davis Cup debut, partnering David Sherwood in the doubles against Israel in Tel Aviv to record a remarkable win over Erlich and Ram. The Israelis concentrate almost exclusively on doubles these days, while this was the first time that Murray and Delgado have played together.

Murray volleyed beautifully, showed great reflexes and anticipation at the net and played with a fine awareness of the different angles and possibilities that the doubles court offers. Delgado, who is ranked No 427 in the world in singles, also raised his game impressively.

Lunchtime rain, which did not dampen the spirits of a small group of demonstrators who had gathered outside to protest against Israel's actions in the Middle East, delayed the start by nearly three hours. The Britons, however, got off to a flier. Ram was broken to love in the fourth game after missing two volleys and the Israelis never threatened to break serve in the opening set, which the British pair won by breaking Erlich.

Delgado, however, was broken in the first and last games of the second set as the Israelis made a positive response. Their knowledge of each other's games was evident and in doubles play teamwork can be crucial.

The Israelis seemed to have taken command, but the British pair produced a thrilling reply in the third set. Murray, responding to the increasingly passionate crowd, hit some excellent winners, particularly at the net. He was broken when serving at 5-3, but the Britons broke Ram for the second time in the set and Murray served out to put the home side back in front.

Once again, however, the balance tipped back in the Israelis' favour as they won the fourth set after breaking Delgado's serve in the second game. Remarkably, however, the Britons broke Ram to lead 3-1 in the final set and even had a point to lead 5-1. However, Erlich held on to his serve and Murray was broken in the next game. Delgado was then broken at 4-4 and despite a thrilling final game, in which the Britons again had a break point, the Israelis held on as Delgado's final service return flew wide.

Murray thought luck had not been on the Britons' side, while Jeremy Bates, the British captain, described it as "a magnificent match" and added: "I'm very proud of them. It was an outstanding performance."

Judy Murray, Andy's mother, yesterday launched a new website (britishtennisparents.com), backed by the Lawn Tennis Association and designed to help parents of junior tennis players.

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