Rusedski recaptures the razzle of long ago

Davis Cup » Greg gives a rare glimpse of vintage form to lead the British fightback after the Henman horror show

A thrillingly-achieved victory by Greg Rusedski, his first on clay for three years, kept Britain in with a chance against Austria in the play-off to decide which nation goes through to the Davis Cup's élite 16-nation World Group in 2005.

Rusedski, in admirable attack-minded mood, lifted British spirits by defeating Austria's No 1, Jürgen Melzer, 3-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 after Tim Henman had suffered a shock 6-3 6-3 6-1 defeat against Stefan Koubek in the opening rubber. In this extra-long day's tennis brought about by Friday's washout, the Austrian pairing of Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya were leading Henman and Rusedski 6-4 1-6 6-2 when failing light halted play. This crucial doubles will be completed this morning, followed by the remaining two singles matches.

Henman's defeat was his worst-ever in the competition. He was never in the match, outgunned, outrun and embarrassingly outthought in 113 minutes by a bouncy, fit opponent who looked as if he runs up mountains for a lark. Koubek made his world ranking of 82 look absurd, and his watching captain, the former "iron man" of tennis, Thomas Muster, must have felt he was watching a mirror image of his old self.

The peroxided left-hander broke Henman's opening service game to love, assisted by the first of the British No 1's four double-faults. Having promised a court that would play slow even by the standards of clay, the Austrians duly delivered. Henman, watched glumly by his parents and wife Lucy, struggled to achieve any sort of penetration on serve and was a set behind after 38 minutes.

The small lakeside stadium contained a solid block of flag-bedecked British supporters, but they were not in the decibel class of the Austrian bass drummer who arrived for the second set. One elderly local, possibly chairman of the Portschach Noise Abatement Society, finally seized the drumstick and tried to kick the offending instrument down the concrete steps. The drummer took the hint and moved to a far corner to continue pounding.

Not even the excellent support he was receiving could rouse poor Henman; he went two sets behind after 81 minutes, and was entitled to look disconsolate, since Koubek's skills were abetted by much luck. The lines were regularly clipped and every net-cord seemed to go Austria's way, while Henman's best efforts missed by a millimetre.

Henman did finally manage to break Koubek, for the only time in the match, early in the third set, but he had already dropped his own serve by then and did so twice more. The subsidence verged on the embarrassing as the player who has so often been the nation's hero in this competition lost the last four games for a haul of just four points.

As Koubek celebrated his unexpected victory, the stadium loudspeakers struck up a Strauss waltz, The Blue Danube. Good Night Vienna might have been more appropriate from the British point of view. Henman dismissed the early start (at 8.43am British time) as a reason for his defeat. "I have a daughter," he explained. But he did concede that a rash of unforced errors was a contributory factor. "I never got the balance right between being aggressive and consistent," he admitted.

However, Henman did not have a monopoly of the day's indifferent tennis. Melzer was wretchedly out of sorts, his backhand buckling under Rusedski's relentless assault. Greg's latest affectation is an Alice band to restrain his newly tinted locks but that was the only remotely girlish thing about the performance.

Things looked bleak for Britain when, having missed three chances to break the ponytailed Melzer in the opening game, Rusedski dropped the first set to a fellow lefthander on a single break of serve in the sixth game. The Austrian impressed at this stage by successfully playing the sort of serve-volley stuff expected of Henman, but he was rapidly converted to the role of struggler by Rusedski's counter-attack.

It was the sort of big-hearted tennis that Rusedski is able to produce only rarely at the age of 31, especially on clay. The swing did not come until midway through the second set, sparked by Rusedski's saving of three break-points at 2-2. To shrieks of delight from the British, he swept three games in succession to love to win the set and promptly broke a distraught Melzer again at the start of the third.

Now the serves were booming down in familiar fashion and Rusedski, skipping away after each winner, closed out the third set in grass-court fashion with a service winner to reach set point, followed by a crunching forehand volley.

Another break for the Briton early in the fourth had Melzer belting a ball out of the stadium and hurling his racket into the dust. It seemed to help, since he won the next four games to lead 5-2, but when he served to level the match an overreliance on the drop shot cost him.

Now it was Rusedski's turn to run off three straight games to produce a tiebreak in which, having surged 5-1 up, he eventually prevailed by seven points to four before reaching up to high-five his team-mates at courtside. Brtain's captain, Jeremy Bates, lauded it as "one of the most inspiring performances Greg has ever had on clay. The strength he showed out there was incredible. It was one of Britain's greatest-ever Davis Cup wins."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride