Henman clean sweep required in Davis Cup, says Mills

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The Independent Online

Long before Alan Mills became drenched by rain and entangled in rules and regulations as the referee at Wimbledon, he created a Davis Cup record as the only player ever to make his debut by winning a singles match without conceding a game.

That was against Joseph Offenheim, of Luxembourg, in the opening rubber of a tie played on a clay court in Mondorf-les-Bains in 1959. Forty years on, as Britain prepare to play another tie in Luxembourg next weekend in the second round of the Euro-African Zone, Mills recounted his match against Offenheim.

"A win by love, love and love had been done before," Mills said, "but not by someone playing their first match. Obviously I was nervous, because I'd seen the team practising and they had one, should I say, good player, and the one that I played, who was a reasonable player, but not one that would frighten anybody. John Barrett was the captain. He was sitting by the side of the court. After I won the first set, 6-0, John kept saying to me, 'I bet you don't win the match without losing a game'. We had little bets all the way through.

"In those days, we had such a small allowance - something like £3 a day, and the LTA bought your evening meal, or £5 a day, and you bought your own evening meal. By the time the match got to 6-0, 6-0, 5-0, all my allowance was on the line for that last game. John, in those days, was an inveterate gambler, and he kept doubling it up. So I doubled my allowance for that week.

"It was a great tie. George Worthington was there as our coach and our other players were Bobby Wilson and Billy Knight. We won, 5-0. After my first match, Bobby said to me, 'If you win your second match love, love and love, I'll drop my trousers and run round the court'. We got worried, because I won the first three games in my next match, but I only won that one in five sets." Knight, who later played an important role in the grooming of Tim Henman, the British No 1, defeated Offenheim, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.

As Mills noted, Luxembourg now pose a bigger threat to Britain, having surprisingly beaten Finland 4-1 in the opening round. Gilles Muller, a left-hander who succeeded the American Andy Roddick as the world junior champion in 2001, was their man of the match.

"It could be down to Tim winning three matches," Mills said. "It's not as easy as it may seem on paper, especially if Greg [Rusedski] is not 100 per cent fit. Greg and Tim could play doubles, and the doubles could decide it.

"That's no reflection on Arvind [Parmar], because Arvind is playing exceptionally well at the moment. You never know what he can do. But I still think it's down to Tim. It's a sad reflection that there's really only one player, and he's not going to go on for ever.

"I think Britain will struggle to get back into the World Group, because there are going to be some very strong teams in the qualifying round."