Lloyd left clutching at straws
Team captain fails to mask Britain's failure to fill the Davis Cup void. Paul Newman reports
Tuesday 22 September 2009
As John Lloyd, the Great Britain captain, considers life next year among the minnows of Lithuania, Slovenia and Estonia, he might like to look back on the last time a team from these shores suffered relegation to Europe Africa Zone Group Two, effectively the Davis Cup's third division.
Just like the side that suffered defeat to Poland in Liverpool on Sunday, the British squad that lost to Romania in 1994 contained a 19-year-old making his debut in the competition. For Dan Evans, who lost both his singles rubbers in straight sets at the Echo Arena, read Tim Henman, Britain's most successful Davis Cup player of modern times.
While nobody would yet consider comparing Evans with a man who won 40 Davis Cup rubbers and became world No 4, the Birmingham teenager may be the best that Lloyd will have at his disposal for the immediate challenges ahead, starting with the opponents they will face following tomorrow's draw in Geneva. Although Andy Murray has made all the right noises about wanting to continue helping his country, it is unrealistic to expect the world No 3 to play in every Davis Cup match at the level where Britain will be next year.
The 22-year-old Scot, who won both his singles rubbers at the weekend, is the only player in the world's top 25 from a country that will not be playing in the elite 16-nation World Group next year. Indeed, of the top 50 players, 46 are from World Group countries, three (Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, Romania's Victor Hanescu and Austria's Jürgen Melzer) from the Davis Cup's second tier and only Murray from the third.
Lloyd's problem, nevertheless, is the dearth of talent at his disposal. Between Murray and Evans, the British No 1 and No 5, are James Ward, who has never played in the Davis Cup and currently has glandular fever, and Alex Bogdanovic and Josh Goodall, who have not won a "live" Davis Cup rubber between them in nine attempts.
Evans, who won a Challenger tournament earlier this year, is the best of his generation, though he has yet to prove he has the maturity, hunger and temperament to make further progress, having taken a step back last summer with off-court misdemeanours that led to the Lawn Tennis Association cutting off his support for four months.
At least he has support in high places. "He's a talented boy and a good kid," Murray said. "He'll become a better player and he needs to make sure he learns from this weekend. This should be a good experience in a lot of ways for him."
Lloyd concurs with Murray's view that relegation could be a blessing in disguise. "For players like Dan and some of the others it will be good to get some wins under their belt," Lloyd said. "Then we'll come back up and we'll have players who are better able to deal with the situations you face in Davis Cup."
Worryingly for the immediate future, there were no British boys good enough to play in the US Open juniors. Murray warned that it could be several years before more international-class players emerge, though Lloyd is hoping that a group of highly promising 14 and 15-year-olds led by Oliver Golding, who is already No 77 in the world junior rankings, will quickly live up to their potential.
Britain's women continue to improve. Following Heather Watson's US Open junior title – Laura Robson, the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion, reached the semis – Elena Baltacha and Katie O'Brien reached a career-high No 101 and No 103 in yesterday's updated world ranking list.
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