Henman and Rusedski hit back to give Britain hope

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The Independent Online

Britain's fate in the Davis Cup was left in limbo here last night after a row over the use of floodlights during the fifth and deciding rubber between Greg Rusedski and Hicham Arazi.

The exhausted Rusedski, who had three set points for a two sets to one lead, lost a third-set tie-break, 9-7. Play is due to resume this morning at noon BST with Arazi leading, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6. Some plastic water bottles were hurled on the court by disgruntled Moroccan supporters when the decision to stop was announced.

At the outset of the World Group qualifying round tie, the captains agreed that no sets would be started under floodlights. The referee, Soeren Friemel, of Germany, decided that the lights should be switched on with Rusedski serving at 3-5 in the third set.

Roger Taylor, Britain's captain, said: "It was agreed at the captains' meeting before the match that if at any time the lights were switched on, the match would be postponed. This was because the teams did not practise under the lights. We'll come back tomorrow and start the job again." As soon as the lights came on, the British bench prepared for the overnight suspension. None the less this must be a unique example of good lights stopping play.

What condition Rusedski is likely to be in remains to be seen. He took a bathroom break before the start of the third set, and an injury time-out in the fifth game, laying flat on the court while Mark Bender, the team's physio, massaged his back muscles. Rusedski, who had only played 19 matches this season before the tie, had worked hard for 10 days in Casablanca to be strong enough to compete in the three best-of-five-sets matches in three days, but the physical and mental toll began to tell after he won the opening set against Arazi yesterday. He had lost in five sets to Younes El Aynaoui, Morocco's No 1, on Friday, and helped Tim Henman to win the doubles in three sets on Saturday.

The two Britons had started the day with an opportunity to salvage a memorable weekend in a season of mostly pain and disappointment, only relieved by Henman's advance to the Wimbledon quarter-finals followed by his ATP Tour title in Washington DC, and Rusedski's pre-Wimbledon success at Nottingham.

Henman, who had vowed to show character after his dismal display in losing to Arazi on Friday, was magnificent. Having described the Arazi match as his worst in the Davis Cup, he produced his best under pressure against El Aynaoui to win, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.

Defeat for Henman would have ended the contest and left Rusedski, or perhaps Alex Bogdanovic, to play a dead match over the best of three sets. Although Henman had won his two previous meetings with El Aynaoui, both were played on rubberised-concrete courts. Duelling with the 6ft 4in icon of Moroccan tennis on clay in an atmosphere filled with the din made by spectators banging inflated plastic clappers and shouting during the points was an entirely different challenge. Such was the noise that it was hard to believe that the 5,000-seat Complex Sportif Al Amal was only one third full.

Henman momentarily subdued the locals by winning the opening set after 41 minutes, breaking in the eighth game with a high forehand volley after manoeuvring his opponent wide, and serving out to love. The second set was tight, El Aynaoui displaying signs of stress serving at 3-3, 0-30, by arguing unnecessarily with Henman after the Briton had wiped away a ball mark. Henman's forehand let him down with his opponent at 15-30, but he made amends by recovering from 4-5, 0-40.

After winning the first two points of the tie-break and benefitting from El Aynaoui's double-faulting to 2-3, Henman gained only one of the concluding six points of the shoot-out, which El Aynaoui won 7-4, hitting a double-fault and making four forehand errors.

El Aynaoui was in trouble on serve in the sixth game of the second set, saving three break points and battling through seven deuces before hitting a winning delivery on the 20th point.

Henman's serve rescued a break point in the seventh game. When it came to the second tie-break, Henman recovered from 0-2 and 4-5, cracking El Aynaoui's serve twice to lead, 6-5, and secured the shoot-out, 7-5, with a forehand drive into the corner. Henman broke in the opening game of the fourth set, aided by four double-faults by El Aynaoui. But Henman then double-faulted at 0-40 to be broken back to 2-2.

Although Henman was gifted a break for 4-3, El Aynaoui double-faulting at 15-40, the Moroccan was pressured into making the error by Henman's aggressive play. Henman held to love for 5-3, and held his nerve at 5-4 after his opponent lost his cool.

El Aynaoui received a warning after netting a volley on the first point of the concluding game. The Moroccan did the same as Henman moved to 30-0, but this time held his temper in check. Henman hit two backhand volleys for victory after three hours and 43 minutes.

Britain have never won a Davis Cup tie from two rubbers to nil down away from home. The only time they achieved it at home was in 1930 against Germany at Queen's Club, London.