Having spent all his tennis life dispensing optimism, John Lloyd will be marking his debut as Britain's Davis Cup captain by instilling what he calls "fun" into an occasion which seems not much fun at all: a relegation tie with Ukraine in Odessa at the weekend.
With this in mind, he has imported as team coach Peter Lundgren, for many years the essence of bonhomie on the tour. This is not a cap-and-bells appointment, however. Lundgren's coaching credentials are obvious: he was by the side of Roger Federer when the Swiss won his first Wimbledon and then ascended to world No 1, and ison agreed leave of absence from his job with Marat Safin.
That said, Lundgren has always known how to have fun. An avid collector of vintage guitars, the 41-year-old Swede always carried a guitar on his travels as a player, and acknowledges that if he had spent more time over racket rather than guitar strings, he would have risen higher than his best world ranking of 25.
"Like me, Peter was a Davis Cup player when, by and large, it was a competition you looked forward to," said Lloyd. "Peter has an infectious spirit, so the players will look up to him.
"I have never heard a bad word about him, and he has impeccable credentials since he has coached Federer and Safin to Grand Slam titles. Peter is an upbeat bloke and I want our team to have fun. I want them to work hard but have a good time and relish the prospect of Davis Cup. Peter is the sort of guy who has the personality and charisma to make that possible. The appointment will initially be just for this tie, because he is still with Safin, but I will try hard to make sure he is with us next year."
Lundgren, who worked as the Davis Cup coach for the Swiss Federation under captains such as Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset before working full-time with Federer, is delighted with the job. "It has been a tough year-and-a-half for Marat and myself," he said. "I couldn't do much coaching with a player who wasn't able to run because of injury and operations.
"Marat decided to go to the US Open this month on his own; nothing against me, he was trying to find himself again, basically. He was very low and didn't know whether he wanted to continue playing. If he had quit at 26, like Bjorn Borg, it would not only have been sad for him but very bad for tennis, because the game needs him, and not only on court.
"I have to discuss with Marat what we are going to do next year because he is my priority, but if there is a possibility of more work with John Lloyd, for sure I would like to help him. This is a great opportunity and I look forward to it, because England is where I started my career, in satellite tournaments. I also played a lot of doubles with Jeremy Bates and reached the Australian Open final with him in 1988.
"I could probably have done better but hated to travel. I had a lot of problems with that. But I made good results when I felt good. Among those I beat were Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Pat Cash, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier and Michael Chang."
Lloyd and two of the four-man squad - Greg Rusedski and Jamie Baker - have been practising since last Wednesday at a club in Vienna with indoor and outdoor clay facilities. Despite considering this "the most important Davis Cup tie I have ever been involved in", Lloyd has been bold in his selection of Baker, who is ranked ninth in Britain, and Jamie Delgado - who was yesterday called up to replace Alan Mackin because of the Scot's unexpected success in an indoor Challenger event in France - over more experienced players whom he clearly considers to be failures, such as Alex Bogdanovic and Arvind Parmar.
Depending on the condition of Rusedski's ailing hip, either Baker or Mackin could find himself involved in two singles rubbers in support of Andy Murray, who will join the rest of the team in Odessa tonight with his coach, Brad Gilbert, following a week's training in the United States.
Murray, a dedicated late riser, may be in for a shock. The Odessa Lawn Tennis Club, despite its grand name, is, according to Lloyd, "like a small provincial club in England, with seven clay courts and a very small clubhouse". There are floodlights, but not of Davis Cup standard, so the matches will need to start at 10.30am to ensure a daylight finish.
"I told the players to bring their alarm clocks, because they will need to be up by 7am," said Lloyd, adding: "I will leave it to Brad to get Andy up." Fortunately, the opposition is nothing like the calibre of the Ukrainians the last time Britain visited, in 1997, when Andriy Medvedev won two singles as Britain squeaked home 3-2. Their best current player, the 20-year-old Sergiy Stakh-ovsky, was beaten 6-4 6-2 by Murray in the US Open junior final two years ago.
So with luck it should be a winning occasion. A fun one, too.Reuse content