Deep breath, here we go. It's time again to ride the Davis Cup carousel, where the British team hover between not being quite good enough for the World Group and too good (we fervently hope) to be relegated to the competition's third tier. This week, on the grass of Eastbourne, Britain take on Israel, the winners to retain a place in the Europe/Africa Zone Group One.
Not too tough an ask, surely? We won in Tel Aviv 16 months ago, albeit narrowly and on the back of an unlikely doubles win featuring a comparative unknown called Andy Murray. Since when, Murray's career has taken wing, which is just as well, since the leaky British tennis vessel is pushing off into the uncertain waters of a post-Henman and post-Rusedski era.
More than a decade has passed since those two came together to form the squad's backbone, and only twice in that time has neither figured in a British team: 1997, GB 1 Zimbabwe 4 at Crystal Palace; and 2003, Australia 4 GB 1 in Sydney. Now Tim Henman, having declared his Davis Cup days over, is sticking by that decision despite being regularly requested to change his mind, while Greg Rusedski is injured. He is also closing in on his 33rd birthday.
Despite the ongoing turmoil of rumours and staff meetings at the Lawn Tennis Association in the wake of Roger Draper's arrival as chief executive, the Davis Cup captain, Jeremy Bates, broke off from a series of talks to ponder the significance of that era's passing.
"We have to look at life after Tim and Greg," he said. "They are not ageless. The guys I have picked now are the faces we are going to see over the next 10 years. We have one world-class player but he needs support, and I believe Alex Bogdanovic can do that absolutely. I like to deal with reality, and that's the reality. It is a golden gateway for some of the other guys to step up. You don't know if they are going to be good pros until you put them in the right competitive environment."
Murray and Bogdanovic have been competing in an ATP grass event at Newport, Rhode Island, where the entry was such that, ranked 36th in the world, Murray found himself top seed. The assumption is that these two will play singles, with the squad being made up by Jamie Delgado, a 29-year-old contemporary of Henman whose current singles ranking is 427, and Alan Mackin, the sacrificial victim of Roger Federer when Britain were thrashed in Switzerland last September.
It was against Israel last year that Bogdanovic threw a wobbly. Serving for the opening set at 5-2 against Noam Okun, the Belgrade-born Brit's game fell apart and he lost in straight sets. Subsequently he asked not to be selected until he had resolved the problem, and this is his first outing since. "Boggo did not need any persuading," insisted Bates. "I talked to him about this tie two weeks after [losing to Serbia in] Glasgow. He has continued to play at a high level, and gained a lot of confidence from what he has done on the grass. We are a few months down the track from the Serbia tie and he has thought about not playing in that one. It is always hard to say exactly when people are ready, but I have great confidence in his ability."
The responsibility of playing doubles against the top-line Israeli duo of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram will go to Delgado, who got to Wimbledon's doubles third round, and possibly Murray. It was Murray, with David Sherwood, who astonished Erlich and Ram in four sets last year to set up a 3-2 win on the strength of a couple of Rusedski singles victories. Ram won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with Vera Zvona-reva, having earlier teamed with Erlich to win the Nottingham grass title for the second year.
The prospect of Murray playing in doubles as well as two singles over the three days does not overly worry Bates. "What's wrong with that?" he wanted to know, before conceding: "Ideally I don't want anyone to play three matches, so it will be interesting to see how the first day goes."
In other words, if we are 2-0 up on day one, Mackin and Delgado will probably get the doubles call. That could well be the case, since the Israelis are without their two highest-ranked singles men, Dudi Sela (162) and Harel Levy (229).
"The Israel tie last year was the making of Andy," Bates claimed. "It was also one of the best tennis weeks of my life." Having taken the decision to blood Murray and seen it work so well, the non-playing captain reckons: "Andy will go back to playing against Israel with some good feelings."
Bates also contributed some hefty stirring to the pot of speculation bearing Brad Gilbert's name by revealing he had phoned the American and asked him to come to Eastbourne next weekend. Though no official announcement has yet been made, the widespread assumption is that Gilbert is about to join the LTA coaching staff, with special responsibility for working with Murray.
"I am not involved in finalising the deal but it is more than likely it is going to happen," said Bates. "I don't know when Brad's official start date is with Andy; he is coming because I would like him to be there. And Andy would like him to be there, too, because it is imperative that we win; we have to win."Reuse content