Greg and Tim put Britain back on world map

Hard graft pays off as Davis Cup avengers turn the tables on the Lapentti brothers
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The Independent Online

In the end, it was a straightforward two-day job as Britain raced to a winning 3-0 lead over Ecuador in the Davis Cup World Group qualifying tie in Guayaquil. Having won their opening singles matches impressively on Friday, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski teamed to crush the Lapentti brothers, Nicolas and Giovanni, 6-2 6-3 6-4 in yesterday's doubles.

Having geared up for a grim battle of attrition in the heat, Britain's team will be relieved that the mission has been accomplished with such speed and skill, not least because it represents full satisfaction for the shock defeat inflicted by Ecuador at Wimbledon 14 months ago which forced them into a play-off to regain a spot among the top 16 tennis nations next year.

Henman and Rusedski, who have now won all six Davis Cup doubles contests in which they have played together, were as dominant as the score suggests. They conceded only five points on serve in the opening set and took a firm grip on the second set when Nicolas Lapentti, again a disappointment to the home crowd, dropped serve on a double fault. Thereafter, despite the younger Giovanni's swashbuckling efforts to raise the level of support, the British duo tightened their grip to run out thoroughly merited victors.

At the end, the plaudits had to go to Greg Rusedski for an extraordinary singles victory which settled Britain into the driver's. Success may have been executed in a Guayaquil cauldron but it was crafted in the heat and humidity of Florida.

It was there, on the Turnberry Isle resort's green clay courts, that Rusedski sweated and grafted his way to peak form in a week of solid endeavour. The occasion, plotted as an acclimatising get-together for his squad by the British captain, Roger Taylor, misfired in one respect, since two of his three singles players, Tim Henman and Martin Lee, never made it to Florida because of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

But Rusedski, who travelled direct from the US Open in New York and even turned up a couple of days before anyone else, was a sensational beneficiary from the time spent in Turnberry with his coach and biomechanist, Brad Langevad.

The London-based Australian, who teamed up with Rusedski 10 months ago, has overseen a spectacular improvement in his man's health and form, the result of rebuilding every stroke in his game. While rain drove Rusedski and the others indoors, Langevad told me in Turnberry, "Greg is just on fire at the moment and we are brainstorming back and forth to each other. We are like a telephone line, we work together and respond to each other so well." Certainly, the Rusedski I watched at practice and to whom I spoke in Florida radiated a fresh determination and confidence. He surprised Taylor with his talk of being committed, if necessary, to play 15 sets of tennis in three rubbers if that was what would be needed to overcome Ecuador. Well aware that he has underperformed on previous Davis Cup occasions, Rusedski also did swimming pool drills and worked out daily in the resort's gym.

At Wimbledon it was an ailing Rusedski's opening-day loss to Nicolas Lapentti which put Britain on the slide towards a spectacular defeat which got Britain into this mess of a World Group qualifying tie on South American clay. How appropriate that, fit and firing on all cylinders, it should be Greg who has helped redress the balance.

"When he started with me, Greg was ranked 72nd in the world," Langevad said. "He says that if he can finish the year in the top 20 it will have been a fantastic year and that anything better would be unbelievable. He is 26 now and if he can break into the top 20 I would regard that, not as a job completed, but a job well done.

"We are both perfectionists. We kept it under our breath but the two of us had an eye on a target. Greg wanted to get back into the top 30. Even top 40, he said, would be nice and give him a chance to get his career back on track. I secretly had a target of No 1 by the end of the year, but when Andre Agassi started to win a few on the trot early in the year I thought two would be acceptable."

Langevad's plotting is not as outrageous as it might appear. Rusedski started the year like a rocket, defeating such as Agassi, world No 1 Gustavo Kuerten and the No 2, Marat Safin. He won the tournament in San Jose, California. "Greg picked up quicker than I expected," said Langevad. "I had been expecting a big second half to the year, but it has been more of a consistent second half. This is because he has been playing a lot of tournaments, trying to get his ranking up, and it has been difficult for me to change and polish things in the middle of a series of tournaments."

Warning that Rusedski is not yet the finished product just yet, Langevad said: "Greg is already thinking about next year by adding new dimensions to his game. We have been developing one of the best serves in the game. Now his service action is not causing him to get injured and is more consistent. Then I thought, why don't we give him the best groundstrokes in the world? Now those groundstrokes can match anyone from the baseline."

Guayaquil has shown just how smoothly the plan is functioning on Rusedski's least favourite surface. His favourite time of the year, Europe's autumn indoor circuit, is coming up next, so the results and ranking promise to improve further. But, for the moment, there is a famous Davis Cup victory to celebrate.

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