Murray is doubtful but Lloyd hails play-off pair
John Lloyd admits that next weekend's Davis Cup tie against Ukraine in Glasgow may hinge on Andy Murray's fitness, but the British captain has been heartened by the outcome of the play-offs for the final two places in his team.
Some doubted the value of holding a six-man shoot-out, but the quality and competitive nature of the matches at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton delighted Lloyd. He selected Josh Goodall and Chris Eaton, who won both their matches, and named James Ward and Colin Fleming as travelling reserves and hitting partners. One of them will replace Murray if the world No 4 fails to recover from the virus that has intermittently laid him low for the past month. Ross Hutchins, a doubles specialist, completes the line-up.
"The play-offs were invaluable," Lloyd said. "The experience hardened a few of the guys up. They played under pressure, although I wouldn't suggest it's as much pressure as playing in the Davis Cup. The blokes who have come through have played extremely well. I'm more confident about the ability of the guys after seeing them in the play-offs than I was beforehand. The matches were of a very high quality indeed."
With a group of such inexperienced players – none of the six has played in the Davis Cup before – Lloyd wanted to assess their ability to play five-set matches.
"Until you've seen someone play in a five-set match you just can't be sure about how they're going to perform," Lloyd said. "I was interested to hear Josh Goodall after he beat Alex Slabinsky. He'd never played a five-set match before and said it was a great experience to know he could keep up his level in a match like that."
Ukraine's best player is Sergiy Stakhovsky, the world No 75, who lost to Murray in the 2004 US Open junior final. He expects to be fit despite suffering an ankle injury while losing to Murray in Dubai last week.
The other squad members are Illya Marchenko (No 227), Sergei Bubka (270 in singles and 159 in doubles) and Ivan Sergeyev (402). Marchenko is likely to be the second singles player while Bubka, the son of the former pole vaulter of the same name, will team up with Stakhovsky in the doubles.
Given that Murray was ill the last time Britain played at the Braehead Arena in 2006 – he could only play the doubles as Serbia won the tie 3-2 – the world No 4 is desperate to recover in time. "Next week should be awesome," he said. "The atmosphere will be way better than last time. Scottish people have watched a lot more tennis than the last time we played there."
With a fit Murray playing two singles and partnering Hutchins, the world No 42 in doubles, Britain would be clear favourites. Without Murray, it would be much closer. Given that Stakhovsky would be favourite to win his two singles rubbers, Britain would need wins in both the doubles and the two other singles. Goodall is No 196 in the world singles rankings, Ward 288, Eaton 390 and Fleming 585.
Bubka and Stakhovsky, who are both based in Bratislava, are an established pair who have performed well together. Stakhovsky reckons his colleague has paid a price for being the son of a famous father. "It puts him under a lot of pressure," he said. "When you get to a Challenger tournament and the press are all over you, it's hard."
Stakhovsky was asked last week if he had ever been to Scotland. "Maybe this is a bad answer but I've been to Shrewsbury," he replied. After being given a geographical update, the Ukrainian said he had seen Braveheart – "It was an awesome movie" – adding: "I know about the traditions – the skirts, the music – and it will be an interesting place to visit."
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