Lloyd makes cup affair of the heart

Only those who thrive under pressure can expect a Davis call-up from Britain's new captain
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The Independent Online

It is a measure of the recruiting skills of the new Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, Roger Draper, that he has managed to tempt on board two of the previous LTA regime's most implacable opponents, the Lloyd brothers, first David in charge of a £500,000 youth programme and now John as Davis Cup captain.

"I never thought the job would come my way," John admitted. "I thought that ship had sailed after being Davis Cup coach [1995-2000] under David. When they removed him I was asked to stay on but there was no way. What happened was disgraceful, I would not have carried on under that regime. I would have been working for people I didn't respect.

"But this is different, a new era. Roger is prepared to take things on. He is going after top people, changing the system and getting rid of a lot of dead wood." There was some spirited discussion before Lloyd accepted a job he admits he has always coveted after 51 Davis Cup matches as a player in 12 years, including the last time Britain reached the final in 1978.

He has insisted he needs to work for 12 weeks of the year, more than Draper initially had in mind. "But the job has changed since the team was just Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski," he said. "Now I am going to be spending a lot of that time going to Challenger and Satellite events because once you take Andy Murray out of the equation the rest of the team aren't ranked high enough to be in main draw tournaments." Though not officially retired from Davis Cup, Henman has already declined to participate in Lloyd's demanding debut, versus Ukraine in Odessa next month, while Rusedski is doubtful because of a hip injury which may require surgery. "Somehow we have to win this match," said Lloyd, since defeat would relegate Britain to the Davis Cup's third tier.

"Next year I am going to put in some players who don't deserve it on their rankings but who I believe can step up to the plate."

For the difficult trip to Odessa, it will be a question of fingers crossed for Murray's fitness to play two winning singles and the doubles, a big ask, and perhaps Jamie Delgado as second singles man after his brave, if losing, showing in the last tie against Israel at Eastbourne.

"I'm coming in at a bad time," he acknowledged, "but we are on the verge of Murray becoming an exceptional player and that's going to be the fun part of it. I hope he can inspire the others. My main job is to find out whether they really want to play Davis Cup and aren't just saying that.

"If they are truthful, a lot of players don't want to put themselves under that type of pressure. I have to try to find someone in singles and also doubles who can play above their rankings and succeed."

He has already spoken to the fourth-ranked British player, Alex Bogdanovic, who has twice crumpled in the Davis Cup. "You absolutely have to want to play in these pressure situations, enjoy doing it, and Alex isn't doing that, so I have to spend some time with him." Lloyd is hoping to sign an unnamed coach, not British, who he says is among the world's top 10.

"It is very much in the air. You can't just ask someone to do five weeks Davis Cup scattered through the year. They are handcuffed in other jobs unless they are already in house, when it becomes an extension of the job, so I want to see if the LTA can use him in other roles." John intends to retain his job as a commentator for the BBC, citing the example of other Davis Cup captains like Patrick McEnroe (USA) and John Fitzgerald (Australia) who are involved in television.

"I commentate on the Grand Slams primarily, so it won't be a problem," he pointed out. "Most of the people I am looking at for Davis Cup aren't good enough to get in those tournaments." Which, of course, is Britain's problem, as well as John Lloyd's.