Luck has generally been on John Lloyd's side in his 14 months as Britain's Davis Cup captain but fortune deserted him when the draw for next year's World Group first round was made in London yesterday. Britain will travel to Argentina in February for a tie Lloyd described as the toughest challenge any of his young team will have faced.
Following the retirements of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, Lloyd will put his faith in youth for what has become arguably the most difficult task in Davis Cup tennis. Since losing to Slovakia nine years ago Argentina have hosted 10 Davis Cup ties and won them all. Nine have been 5-0 whitewashes, with Australia (twice) and Russia among their victims. The only rubbers they have lost were in a 3-2 victory over Croatia five years ago.
The tie, which comes less than a fortnight after the Australian Open, is the third meeting between the two countries. Britain won in 1928, but lost in 1981 and 1989. While Lloyd's team will be playing their first match in the World Group for five years, Argentina have never been out of the top flight since returning in 2002. They reached their second final last year, taking Russia to a deciding rubber in Moscow.
A common denominator among the Argentines is their formidable ability on clay, which is the surface they look certain to choose for the tie, from 8-10 February. With 12 players in the world's top 100, they have a wealth of talent. Guillermo Canas (world No 13) is their highest ranked player ahead of Juan Ignacio Chela (16), Juan Monaco (19) and David Nalbandian (22).
In Andy and Jamie Murray Britain have world-class players in singles and doubles respectively, but Lloyd's resources are desperately thin thereafter. Alex Bogdanovic, the world No 129, is the next highest-ranked Briton in singles, followed by Jamie Baker (No 224) and Richard Bloomfield (241). "For all members of the team, including Andy, it will be the toughest challenge they have faced in their young careers," Lloyd said.
Andy Murray believes the doubles, in which he would partner his brother, could be the only rubber in which Britain would start as favourites. "I think we have a chance in three or four of the matches," he said. " If we can steal one of the first singles matches on the first day and get ahead in the doubles, then maybe we can put some pressure on them."