Rusedski's loss takes Britain into wilderness

Davis Cup: Taylor's team relegated to Euro-African Zone after failing to overcome bad start
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The Independent Online

The lights figuratively went out on Britain's Davis Cup team in dazzling sunshine here yesterday when Morocco's Hicham Arazi completed a deciding fifth-rubber victory against his fellow left-hander Greg Rusedski, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6.

Relegated from the 16-nation World Group, Britain are on the road to Group One of the Euro-African Zone. The draw will be made in London on Thursday.

Britain have never won a Davis Cup tie from two rubbers to nil down away from home. The only time it was achieved at home was in 1930 against Germany at Queen's Club, London, when Dr Colin Gregory and Ian Collins won the doubles and Harry Lee and Bunny Austin triumphed in the reverse singles.

In spite of a spirited performance, Britain were undone by Tim Henman's poor performance against Arazi in the opening match last Friday and by Rusedski's physical distress against Arazi on Sunday, when the concluding rubber was suspended with the Moroccan No 2 leading by two sets to one.

Rusedski, who was hyper-ventilating during play on Sunday, was put on an intravenous drip after the match and made a good recovery yesterday, coming agonisingly close to pushing the contest to a fifth set, but was left to reflect on what might have been after seeing several key net-cord shots go his opponent's way.

"I had some chances and just needed a little bit of luck," he said. "It did just not happen for me, there were one or two net-cord balls - but that is the way tennis goes." He added: "I am a little tired. It was a long weekend and unfortunately we did not get the result. We did our best - that's all we can do."

His team captain, Roger Taylor, added: "Greg tried to push himself. He gave everything. He looked good, had a break, but just couldn't take it."

Arazi was clearly rattled by Rusedski's lively play in the fifth game of the fourth set yesterday. After demanded that the umpire check a ball mark on the clay court after double-faulting to 30-15, Arazi was warned for verbal abuse. Rusedski proceeded to break for 3-2 and then held for 4-2.

Arazi managed to salvage four break points in the next game to prevent Rusedski from running away with the set, and broke back to 4-4 when Rusedski missed a forehand.

As the tension mounted, Arazi saved another break point in the ninth game and the action moved towards the tie-break. Arazi's forehand gained him a mini-break for 4-2, and although Rusedski saved two match points on his serve, Arazi converted the third with a forehand volley for 7-5. The match lasted a total of three hours 53 minutes, the concluding set yesterday taking 58 minutes.

On Sunday Rusedski had three set points for a two-sets-to-one lead, but lost the third set-tie break, 9-7. When play was suspended, with Arazi leading 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, some plastic water bottles were hurled on the court by disgruntled Moroccan supporters.

A groundsman tossed a broom into the crowd, and about 100 spectators rushed forward. Had the 5,000-seat stadium been packed instead of a third full, the crowd's angry reaction may have been more difficult to quell.

At the outset, the captains agreed that no sets would be started under floodlights. The referee, Soeren Friemel, of Germany, decided that the lights should be switched on with Rusedski serving at 3-5 in the third set.

Roger Taylor, Britain's captain, explained: "It was agreed at the captains' meeting before the match that if at any time the lights were switched on, the match would be postponed. This was because the teams had not practised under the lights."

Rusedski, who had only played 19 matches this season before the tie, had worked hard for 10 days in Casablanca to be strong enough to compete in three best-of-five-sets matches in three days, but the physical and mental toll began to tell after he won the opening set against Arazi.

Taylor's contract is now due to be reviewed. "He's done a great job," Henman said. "He's prepared us very, very well. No disrespect to Roger, but whoever is captain is not going to change my approach to Davis Cup. It's always been a priority."