Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman gave Britain a commanding 2-0 lead against Ecuador in their Davis Cup tie on a clay court in Guayaquil yesterday and need to win only one of the three remaining rubbers to secure a return to the 16-strong World Group next year.
Atoning for last year's embarrassing 3-2 defeat by Ecuador on the Wimbledon grass, Rusedski overcame Nicolas Lapentti, one of the world's finest clay-court players, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3. Tim Henman, the British No 1, then repeated his straight-sets success of 14 months ago against Luis Morejon, the Ecuador No 2, this time winning, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Henman and Rusedski are due to play Nicolas Lapentti and his younger brother, Giovanni, in the doubles rubber today, with the reverse singles to be played tomorrow.
Rusedski's win was one of his most timely and impressive victories for Britain. It was Nicolas Lapentti's first loss at home in a Davis Cup singles match a point that made Rusedski's success all the sweeter, given Lapentti's five-set win against the British No 2 in the opening match of last year's tie at Wimbledon.
Moreover, Rusedski made amends after an ominous opening set and fully justified the faith of Roger Taylor, Britain's captain, who, though tempted to put in Martin Lee so that Rusedski did not have to play three matches, had taken Rusedski at his word that he was fit and raring to go.
Lapentti started and finished the opening game with aces and then capitalised by breaking serve in the second game as Rusedski compromised his attacking style by staying at the back of the court. An angled backhand stop-volley from Lapentti left Rusedski stranded on the baseline at 30-30, and the British No 2 was unable to save the break point.
A love game took Lapentti to 3-0 before Rusedski was able to hold for the first time. Lapentti showed signs of nerves for once when serving at 4-2. He double-faulted on the opening point and was passed for 15-30 by a forehand down the line. Rusedski let himself down on the next point, netting a backhand while attempting to return a second serve. Although Lapentti committed the same error at 40-30, the Briton hit a forehand long at deuce and netted a backhand return to lose the game.
Rusedski made further errors when serving to stay in the set at 2-5. Although he produced an ace to save the first set point, at 15-40, he was passed by Lapentti's confident forehand cross-court return to decide the set.
But instead of ridding Lapentti of anxiety, the success seemed to weigh on him. Rusedski was able to break twice to lead 4-1 in the second set, playing an astute point at 30-40 in the third game, which he won with a forehand volley, and harrying his opponent into errors in the fifth game.
Although Rusedski then played a dreadful service game to be broken to love for 4-2, he recovered his composure, breaking a third time for 5-2 and comfortably served out the set.
By now, both players were prepared to vary their tactics, Rusedski making more approaches behind his serve, and Lapentti also moving to the net. The midday sun coincided with Rusedski's first crisis in the third set. Double-faulting on the opening point of the eighth game, he went on to save three break points.
Rusedski dropped only one point in his last two service games in winning the set, breaking for 6-5 with a forehand pass down the line at 30-40, and hitting a smash on his first set point at 40-15 in the next game to nose ahead, two sets to one.
Lapentti's serve was under pressure again at the start of the fourth set. Rusedski created three break points in the opening game. Lapentti saved the first with a drop-shot; Rusedski mis-hit a return on the second; Lapentti delivered an impressive serve on the third. But Rusedski did not give his opponent a second chance after creating another chance to break at 1-1.
"It's probably my best win to date in the Davis Cup. To win in a place like South America against a player like Nicolas Lapentti, it was special," Rusedski said after silencing the 7,000-strong crowd.
"I find it difficult to play Davis Cup. I'm always more tight and nervous because you are playing for your team and not just yourself, but this win goes a long way towards addressing that."
Rusedski said the turning point of the match came in the eighth game of the third set when he was forced to save three break points before rallying and grabbing the set-winning opportunity in game 11.
"I think I was a little bit nervous in the first set and a bit slow on the surface but the major turning point was in the third when I saved the three break points and I just went on to dominate in the fourth set."
He added: "In the beginning it was very tough to stick with it, but I served and volleyed very well."Reuse content