Koubek snares wounded Rusedski

A weekend of stress and Strauss for Britain's Davis Cup team ended here in Austria with the Radetsky March blaring ironically in Greg Rusedski's ears yesterday after he lost a deciding fifth rubber that would have given the nation a place in the World Group next year.

With the tie condensed into two days after Friday's washout, Rusedski's and Tim Henman's task of playing three matches each proved too much against lively opponents who had the luxury of being able to spread the load. Austria prevailed, 3-2, consigning Britain to another year in the Euro-African Zone.

Although Jeremy Bates, Britain's captain, had the option of including either Alex Bogdanovic or Andrew Murray, he did not consider they were quite ready to take some of the strain off Henman and Rusedski.

Having said from the outset that Rusedski, with his big serve and huge experience, had a better chance of defeating Stefan Koubek, Austria's No 2, if the tie came down to the concluding match, Bates cajoled Rusedski to play even though his left hand had been cut during Saturday's doubles.

The doubles, delayed overnight because of bad light with the Austrian pair, Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya, leading by two sets to one, was completed after only 21 minutes yesterday. Knowle and Peya triumphed, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, bringing to a close Henman and Rusedski's sequence of eight consecutive Davis Cup wins in doubles.

That left Britain trailing, 2-1, with Henman having to defeat Jurgen Melzer, Austria's No 1, in the first of the two remaining reverse singles to keep the tie alive.

Henman, beaten by Koubek in the opening singles on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, and unable to give Rusedski the help he needed in the doubles, could not have made a worse start against Melzer, losing the opening set without winning a game. At that point, the British No 1 came alive, steadied his game, and went on to overcome Melzer, 0-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2, to level the contest.

"The balls were heavy, and I was getting nowhere playing my usual attacking game," Henman said. "I decided to stay back a bit more and hit more shots. As Jeremy said, 'If you're going to lose, you might as well go down swinging'." Henman took his out his pent-up frustration on Melzer, in both deed and gesture. "I needed to get a bit more fired up," he said. "If he was on the receiving end of it, so be it." Rusedski, who on Saturday spared Britain the potential embarrassment of losing the tie in one day by draining Melzer's confidence, beating the Austrian, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6, was then called upon to make the last push for promotion against Koubek.

After the doubles, Rusedski had shown his damaged left hand to the media, saying: "I'll talk things over with Jeremy, but I couldn't feel my racket, and my hand hurt when I hit the ball.' After being given a pain-killing injection, Rusedski's hand was taped, and he went out to do battle again. Although the hand of Greg was unable to deliver victory against Koubek, he did everything possible except convert enough of the chances he created.

The Austrian won, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5, after two hours and 45 minutes of intense action. In the opening set, Rusedski held three set points with Koubek serving at 3-5, before being broken while serving for the set at 5-4. Rusedski was then out-played in the tie-break, 7-2.

After double-faulting to be broken for 2-3 in the second set, Rusedski broke back in the next game and had three break points at 4-3, only to lose his serve in the eighth game. Koubek served out the set to love.

Rusedski had two break points in the second game of the third set, but Koubek served away the first and saved the second with a drop-shot. Koubek then took the initiative in the third game. Rusedski broke back for 3-3, but was unable to apply pressure with Koubek serving at 4-5. The Austrian then sent up the decisive break for 6-5 with a superb lob and served out the tie for the loss of only one more point.

So Austria stay in the 16-strong World Group, and Britian wait to see where Thursday's Euro-African Zone takes them next.

¿ In Alicante, Rafael Nadal's 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, victory over France's Arnaud Clement yesterday clinched the crucial third point in Spain's 4-1 win and took them through to the Davis Cup final against the United States, who beat Belarus in Charleston.

Portschach results

Davis Cup World Group

Austria vs Great Britain

Saturday

S Koubek bt T Henman 6-3 6-3 6-1; J Melzer lost to G Rusedski 3-6 6-3 6-4 7-6; J Knowle and A Peya led Henman and Rusedski 6-4 1-6 6-2.

Match score: 1-1.

Yesterday

Knowle and Peya bt Henman and Rusedski 6-4 1-6 6-2 6-1; Melzer lost to Henman 6-0 2-6 6-7 (4-7) 2-6; Koubek bt Rusedski 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 7-5.

Austria bt Great Britain 3-2.

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