Rusedski grows into role of Davis Cup mentor

Yes, we know that the 17-year-old Andrew Murray is preparing to become the youngest British Davis Cup player in history. But, in the rush for fresh faces, let us not forget good old Greg Rusedski, who opens the Europe-African Zone Group One tie against Israel today, who is the first Canadian-born Briton to play in the Canada Stadium here.

The Centre Court at the Ramat Hasharon National Tennis Centre was so named at the request of the Canadian Jewish community, whose donations helped the building take shape.

This is a timely coincidence, because the 31-year-old Rusedski has never been more important to the British cause than he is now that Tim Henman has retired from Davis Cup duty. Nor has the man from Montreal displayed greater willingness to help the next generation of British hopefuls make the grade.

"I can't praise Greg high enough for what he's done in the last months," said Jeremy Bates, Britain's captain, yesterday. "If you've got another voice who can reinforce what you say, it's music to my ears."

Since choosing to represent Britain in 1995, Rusedski has been through good times and bad and his presence has peeved almost as many people as it has pleased. Now, in the twilight of his playing career, he is beginning to match the home-grown Henman's keenness to contribute to the development of potential successors.

Rusedski has become a mentor to the 20-year-old Alex Bogdanovic, who replaces Henman in the singles today, and has taken an active interest in the progress of the other youngsters training at the Lawn Tennis Association's Queens Club headquarters.

Bates is delighted at how Rusedski has taken to the role of team leader.

"Before Christmas," he said, "Greg started to come to Queens a lot as part of his rehab. He also came to [the training base] at La Manga. Greg has spent a lot of time around the players, so he's got an informed opinion. And I hear the players saying, 'Oh, Greg says this' and 'Greg says that'. You can't win a Davis Cup tie with one player, and it's great to have the benefit of Greg's leadership as the senior player."

Although encouragement and optimism are essential, today brings the reality of Davis Cup life without Henman. By Sunday - or even before - we shall know if the results measure up and discover whether or not the team are good enough to move on to a World Group play-off.

Bates was keen to emphasise that the future would bring "lots of chances for lots of players, and they should be aware of it".

Rusedski starts against Harel Levy, the Israeli No 2, whom he defeated, 6-1, 7-6, in their only previous match, in San Jose in 2001. On his day, however, Levy is capable of beating top players, as he has proved with victories against Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, and Henman.

Bogdanovic will follow Rusedski on court to play Noam Okun, the Israeli No 1, whose display against Finland in the zonal play-off last September kept his country in Group One.

Bogdanovic has been in tougher situations. He made his Davis Cup debut in Australia in 2003 - in the absence of both Henman and Rusedski - and lost to Lleyton Hewitt, the world No 1 at the time. Bogdanovic at least restored his pride by winning a dead rubber against Todd Woodbridge.

All being well, Bates will not have to reconsider his decision to play the two new boys, Murray and David Sherwood, in tomorrow's doubles against Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, recent winners of the Rotterdam tournament, in a match Israel are expected to win.

DAVIS CUP Europe-Africa Zone Group One Second round: Israel v Britain (Tel Aviv, Isr names first):

Today: H Levy v G Rusedski; N Okun v A Bogdanovic. (BBC 2, 11.10am).

Tomorrow: J Erlich and A Ram v A Murray and D Sherwood. (BBC 1, 1.05pm).

Sunday: Okun v Rusedski; Levy v Bogdanovic (BBC 1 6.30pm).

Williams eases to victory as Hantuchova struggles

Serena Williams eased into the semi-finals of the Dubai Open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova yesterday.

Williams kept the pressure on Hantuchova by hitting deep, and serving well. Hantuchova struggled to produce any of the winners down the line that are a feature of her game.

"I definitely had fun today," Williams said. "It was a nice match. I didn't want to get off to a slow start again, especially against someone like Daniela."

The French Open champion Anastasia Myskina's run of poor form continued when she was beaten 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 by Switzerland's Patty Schnyder, who faces the top seed Lindsay Davenport, who posted a tidy 6-1, 6-4 win over the former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez.

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