Having treatment for cancer and being off the tournament circuit has not stopped Ross Hutchins from playing an important role in Britain’s preparations for this weekend’s Davis Cup tie against Russia at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
Hutchins, a key member of the squad ever since making his debut five years ago, was in London yesterday undergoing his latest round of chemotherapy but spent the first part of this week with the GB team.
“For the last four or five weeks Ross has sat in a dark room just going through hours and hours and hours of match footage of the opponents,” Leon Smith, Britain’s captain, said yesterday. “He then came up and spent the first three days as part of the support staff here and presented some very good findings, which we’ll now use in terms of the tactics and strategies going in. Ross has been brilliant. He’s been a great support.”
Colin Fleming, Hutchins’ regular doubles partner until his diagnosis at the end of 2012, said: “He’s been doing a lot of analysis, both on our guys and on the Russian team. It’s something Ross is really good at. In our doubles partnership he was always the one who picked up a lot more tactically on opponents and made game plans.”
Britain will need all the help they can get in this Europe Africa Zone Group One tie. Smith’s men will be hoping to fare better at the Ricoh Arena than Coventry City, the regular tenants, who recently went into administration and have only just agreed a deal to see out the season there.
The winners will go into a September play-off for a place in the elite World Group. Although both teams lack their best players - Andy Murray did not make himself available for Britain while Russia are without their two highest-ranked men in Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko - the visitors have the stronger team in terms of singles rankings.
Russia will look to 30-year-old Dmitry Tursunov (world No 67), who helped win the Davis Cup for his country in 2006, and 22-year-old Evgeny Donskoy (No 80), who took a set off Murray in Indian Wells last month.
James Ward (No 214, pictured) will be Britain’s lead singles player, but Smith sprang a surprise in his selection yesterday when he replaced Jamie Baker (No 235), whose work-rate and commitment have always been exemplary, with Dan Evans (No 325), whose funding by the Lawn Tennis Association was cut when he was dropped from Team Aegon, which supports leading British players. Although his attitude has often been called into question, Evans’ talent has long been recognised.
The 22-year-old enjoyed his finest moment when he won both his rubbers against higher-ranked opposition as Britain beat Slovakia last year (when he was ranked 49 places higher than he is now) and did creditably in the subsequent defeat to Belgium. Since then he has not performed as well as he would have liked.
Baker was in Smith’s original squad, but the captain said he had always planned to review his line-up in the light of this week’s practice.
Smith said the Ricoh Arena court particularly suited Evans and believes the singles players he has chosen are those most capable of producing an upset. “As the week progressed it felt right to bring Dan in,” Smith said.