Henman on hand to help British drive for revival

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, as Britain's relegated Davis Cup team were drawn to meet Finland or Luxembourg next April at the start of the campaign to escape from the Euro-African Zone, Tim Henman was on missionary duty for the Lawn Tennis Association.

Henman, the only player in the nation ranked in the world's top 100, attended the official opening of the Manchester Tennis Centre, the 52nd indoor centre initiated by the LTA. Next Monday Henman will be in Chiswick to launch the Esporta Racquets Academy, of which he is the official patron.

These are two of the latest ventures in the quest to preach the gospel of the sport to the unconverted, in the hope that the names of Henman and Greg Rusedski will not be rusted relics on plaques at the proposed National Tennis Centre in Roehampton before worthy players emerge as their successors.

As the Davis Cup draw was taking place and the 29-year-old Henman was en route to the Sportcity complex, Manchester's legacy after the success of last year's Commonwealth Games, Mark Petchey was settling into a new job with the LTA.

Petchey, 33, a coach and commentator since retiring as a player, has been appointed manager of men's national training, a post vacated by Jeremy Bates, who will oversee both men's and women's tennis as assistant to David Felgate, the director of performance.

The last time Britain were relegated from the Davis Cup World Group, in 1992, it was six years before they resurfaced. Neither Bates nor Petchey won a match in losing to India in the qualifying round in New Delhi in 1992. Two years later, the same two players contested singles in a home defeat by Romania on grass that left Britain in Group Two of the Euro-African Zone, effectively the third division.

Henman made his debut in the doubles against Romania, joining Bates in a five-set win. The Montreal-born Rusedski arrived from Canada in time to join forces with Henman in a 5-0 win against Monaco in a Group Two relegation play-off at Eastbourne. Britain defeated India at Nottingham in 1998 to return to the World Group.

Britain's belief that they belong among the élite 16 nations is rooted in sepia images of Davis Cup nostalgia - old photographs of Fred Perry and Bunny Austin from the mid-1930s, when the spectacular silver punch bowl was won for the ninth and last time.

It took 41 years for Britain to reach another final, the Lloyd brothers, John and David, and Buster Mottram participating in a 4-1 defeat by the John McEnroe-inspired United States at Palm Springs in 1978.

Britain have not won a match in the World Group since 1986, when Bates and John Lloyd were in the team that defeated Spain at Telford before going on to lose to Australia in the quarter-final at Wimbledon. One of the chief problems in recent years has been the lack of a doubles team to share the load with Henman and the 30-year-old Rusedski.

At least yesterday's draw was kind to Britain, with Finland - whose No 1 is the highly rated Jarkko Nieminen - favourites to play here in the second round.

John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive, said last weekend that defeat in Morocco would not cause a "knee-jerk reaction". Roger Taylor, who captained the team for the seventh time, waits to see if his contract is to be renewed.

The search for reinforcements and new blood intensifies, with Crowther, Felgate, Bates and Petchey determined to seek help from every development scheme, whether LTA-led or independent.



World Group

1 Australia v Sweden; 7 United States v Austria; 4 Belarus v Russia; Morocco v 5 Argentina; Romania v 6 Switzerland; 3 France v Croatia; 8 Netherlands v Canada; Czech Republic v 2 Spain.

Euro/African Zone Group One

Luxembourg v Finland; Zimbabwe v Greece; 1 Germany, 2 Slovakia, 3 Belgium, 4 Britain, Israel and South Africa receive byes into second round.

Euro/African Zone Group Two

1 Italy v Georgia; 7 Bulgaria v Egypt; Algeria v 3 Denmark; 6 Slovenia v Poland; Tunisia v 5 Portugal; 4 Serbia and Montenegro v Latvia; 8 Ireland v Hungary; 2 Norway v Ukraine.

Americas Zone Group One

* Venezuela v Paraguay; Peru v Chile. 1 Brazil and 2 Ecuador receive byes into second round.

Americas Zone Group Two

Puerto Rico v 1 Bahamas; Jamaica v 3 Mexico; Haiti v 4 Uruguay; Cuba v 2 Dominican Republic.

Asia/Oceania Zone Group One

1 Thailand v Pakistan; Taiwan v 3 Uzbekistan; Indonesia v 4 Japan; New Zealand v 2 India.

Asia/Oceania Zone Group Two

1 Malaysia v South Korea; 4 Lebanon v Iran; Philippines v 3 China; Kuwait v 2 Hong Kong.

Number denotes seed. Ties to be played 6-8 February.