Fleming and Hutchins lift the gloom in Glasgow


Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has not been the best of weeks for the Lawn Tennis Association, but at least Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins provided a ray of Easter sunshine yesterday. The pair's 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 Davis Cup victory over Ruben Bemelmans and David Goffin in Glasgow ensured that Britain's Europe/Africa Zone Group One tie would not be decided until today's final session, although Belgium remain clear favourites as they go into the last day with a 2-1 lead.

Recovering from a cautious start, Fleming and Hutchins eventually had too much class for their opponents, who were playing as a pair for the first time. Nevertheless, Josh Goodall and Dan Evans will both have to produce the best performances of their lives in this afternoon's reverse singles against Olivier Rochus and Steve Darcis respectively if Britain are to steal the win that would take them through to a September play-off for a place in the World Group.

Leon Smith's team were always going to struggle in the absence of their leading singles players, Andy Murray and James Ward, though the Belgians are also lacking two of their most successful men of recent years, Xavier Malisse in singles and Dick Norman in doubles. Even without their experience, however, Belgium were able to select four men who are all ranked higher in singles than their opponents.

While there would be no shame in losing this particular tie, the LTA should be concerned about the declining numbers of tennis players in Britain. According to figures released by Sport England, the average number of adults playing the game has dropped by almost 25 per cent in less than five years, from 487,500 to 375,800. As a result, Sport England last week cut their funding for tennis by £530,000.

Although some criticisms of the LTA for failing to produce more top-class players have been unfair, the record on playing numbers does not reflect well on the regime. Champions are the product of their own endeavour and ambition rather than national training programmes – nobody has ever suggested, for example, that Serbia's success has been down to the efforts of their impoverished tennis federation – but a bigger pool of players can only increase a nation's chances of unearthing world-class competitors.

Roger Draper, the LTA's chief executive, described Sport England's participation figures as "disappointing". Considering the resources at the LTA's disposal, many would use much stronger language.

However, British fortunes at elite level are picking up. Judy Murray's Fed Cup team face Sweden later this month in a play-off for a place in World Group Two, while Smith has led the men away from the brink of the Davis Cup's lowest division to within touching distance of the elite World Group.

Fleming, ranked No 25 in the world at doubles, and Hutchins (No 30) made a nervous start as the Belgians broke serve in the third game. From 30-30 Fleming served a double fault and then saw Goffin crack a backhand winner down the middle of the court. It was the only break the Belgians needed to take the first set.

Hutchins was broken when serving for the second set, but two breaks of Goffin's serve enabled the Britons to level the match. Goffin was broken again in the third and fourth sets as Fleming and Hutchins closed out victory.