Murray injury exposes fatal fault in Britain's Davis Cup plan

Now we know how much Britain will rely on Andy Murray in the years to come. Victory was needed in both of yesterday's singles here to retrieve the Davis Cup tie against Israel, but a neck injury forced the British No 1 to pull out of the opening rubber and his replacement, Jamie Delgado, lost in five sets to Noam Okun.

Delgado, who had performed splendidly in the previous evening's five-set doubles alongside Murray, lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3 after three hours and 40 minutes. It was a defiant display by the 29-year-old, but this weekend at Devonshire Park has underlined Britain's lack of strength in depth.

Jeremy Bates, the captain, said he was "enormously proud" of the team's efforts but, with the resources at his disposal, he faces a mighty task. There was speculation that he would resign in the wake of the defeat, although a Lawn Tennis Association spokesman said last night that Bates had not given the governing body any such indication.

Bates won two of his first three matches in charge, away to Luxembourg in 2004 and away to Israel last year, but has now presided over three successive defeats. The last two have been at home, Serbia and Montenegro having won in Glasgow in April.

This latest setback means that Britain will go into a play-off in September away to Ukraine to decide which country will be relegated from Group One of the Europe-Africa Zone. Group Two includes the likes of Latvia, Slovenia, Zimbabwe, Georgia and Macedonia.

Ukraine do not have any players in the world's top 200 and Britain won their two previous encounters, but that was in the days when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were in their pomp.

With Henman now in Davis Cup retirement and Rusedski ­ who was missing here through injury ­ nearing the end of his playing days, the weight of responsibility on Murray is enormous. He came back from two sets down to beat Andy Ram on Friday and played inspirational tennis as the British pair came so close on Saturday evening to beating Ram and Jonathan Erlich, but an injury sustained in making one of several diving shots left his neck in spasm and put paid to his chances of playing again.

Murray was due to play in Los Angeles this week but he spent much of yesterday in a neck brace ­ which he discarded as he led the vocal support for Delgado ­ and will have a scan to determine the extent of the injury.

Bates later revealed that Alex Bogdanovic would have been highly doubtful for the day's second singles because of a groin injury. The British No 4 was replaced by Alan Mackin, who went on to win the dead rubber against Dekel Valtzer 6-2, 6-1.

Delgado had lost all four of his previous Davis Cup singles rubbers, the last of them six years ago. The British No 14, now ranked No 437 in the world, has never lived up to the promise he showed as a junior, but he played with great spirit against Okun. The world No 270, a sound and powerful stroke maker, had beaten Bogdanovic in straight sets on Friday.

Delgado's lack of firepower was exposed in the first two sets but he gradually played himself back into contention, showing the same composure he had displayed under pressure during the previous day's doubles. Although Delgado failed to take four set points when serving for the third set at 5-3 he went on to win a tense tie-break, which featured seven mini-breaks, 7-5.

The Briton won the fourth set comfortably and made the first break in the fifth, but Okun then won four games in a row and served out to take the match. It was only the third five-set match Delgado has ever played.

Delgado, who was in tears at the end, felt the pressure of Davis Cup tennis was greater even than playing at Wimbledon and said that he had never felt as emotionally drained after suffering two five-set defeats in the space of 24 hours.

"I'm unbelievably disappointed," he said. "I put everything into it but in the end it just wasn't enough." Bates said the commitment of his players had made it "a privilege" to work with them. "If that's what British tennis is about I think we should all be enthused about what we can do in the future," he said.

* Serena Williams' comeback ended in disappointment on Saturday when she was beaten by Russia's Vera Zvonareva in the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open in Cincinnati. The seven-times Grand Slam winner lost 6-2, 6-3 in her first tournament since injuring her left knee at the Australian Open in January.

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