Murray's rise broadens Bates options

Davis Cup: Swiss clay can be a great leveller but the Federer factor remains

Understandably, the British captain, Jeremy Bates, has taken a positive view of the tie, to be played indoors on clay in Geneva, declaring it "not unwinnable". After all, Federer can't play in every one of the five rubbers, though if he adds participation in Saturday's doubles match to his two singles, victory in all three would be enough to make Switzerland's place in the top flight secure.

While not exactly grabbing at straws, Bates declared the clay decision "a strange choice", and went on to air a rumour he had heard that Federer might opt not to turn up. It was Federer's absence in March which was responsible for a 3-2 Swiss home loss to Holland and the reason they are involved in this play-off contest with Britain.

Should Federer indeed drop out, the surface in the vast Palexpo arena will suit Switzerland's No 2, the 20-year-old Stanislas Wawrinka, and whoever might step in, probably George Bastl, to replace Federer. But, according to the Swiss, it ain't gonna happen. After winning his second straight US Open last weekend, Federer reiterated his intention to play in Geneva, if only because it will be the first time home crowds have had the chance to watch him since the Gstaad tournament in July last year.

The true reason for clay, said Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer, is that Wawrinka has had all his best results on it, while Federer is reckoned capable of beating the best Britain can offer on anything. "The plan is to play Roger in all three matches," said Stauffer. In doubles he will link with a specialist in that branch of the sport, Yves Allegro. This pairing won the Halle title in June.

This news will not affect Bates's brave face. "I would never go into any situation conceding anything," he said before the team flew out last Wednesday to base themselves in Evian for a week and to practise indoors on clay in the French town of Thonon, an hour from Geneva. "Otherwise, what's the point of being there? The challenge is awesome in view of Federer's record and the tennis he is playing. You are certainly not looking at his singles as 50-50 matches."

Since Tim Henman's decision to abandon his commitment to the Davis Cup has dovetailed with Andy Murray's rapid rise in the rankings, Bates is considering the possibility of virtually conceding the Friday singles against Federer, in which Murray is scheduled to face the mighty man, by playing one of the support members of the squad, either Alan Mackin or David Sherwood, and saving Murray for Saturday's doubles and Sunday's singles, which could be decisive.

Britain's victory over Israel in Tel Aviv, which earned them this meeting with the Swiss, was achieved with two singles wins by Greg Rusedski and a sensational and heartening doubles success by Murray and Sherwood in their Cup baptism. Since then, the 18-year-old Murray's career has taken off spectacularly, blighted only by a tendency towards cramp and fatigue in marathon contests.

"We have talked for years about Tim and Greg not playing three days in a row, yet they have finished up doing that," said Bates." So if we think the best thing is for Greg and Andy to play three days in a row we wouldn't have any hesitation. Greg played three five-setters in two days against Austria last September, and played fantastically." Much clearly hangs on Rusedski defeating Wawrinka on Friday. If so, it would be a repeat of the win he posted, albeit on a hard court, at Montreal in August. Ending the first day with the score 1-1 would enable Bates to offer Greg a break if Sherwood and a rested Murray were reunited in the doubles.

Paying tribute to Murray's blossoming maturity, Bates revealed that the plan to send the Scottish teenager off to France for fitness training will not be implemented until later this year. Since the US Open, Murray has enjoyed a short break in Scotland and has been practising at LTA headquarters at Queen's Club.

"I don't think we have seen enough of Andy yet to say he has problems with cramping," said Bates. "He has suddenly gone from no stage to centre stage. You have to grow into the Tour physically, and he has never previously done what he has done over the last three months. We have a doctor, a physio and three highly-trained medical staff with us to work with him, so he will have the best professional care. But I can't categorically say cramping won't happen. One thing I do know, he is chomping at the bit to play against the Swiss, can't wait to get out there."

Bates will be heartened by the statistics. Britain have never lost to the Swiss in three previous Davis Cup ties, and the captain is, in a way, grateful for this Geneva occasion, despite Federer's presence. "There were a couple of other nations in [the draw] I didn't want. I didn't fancy Chile, didn't fancy Spain either." Perhaps, instead, there will be a Murray-inspired sensation on the clay in Geneva.

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