Spencer, world No 301, to serve Britain in Sydney

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The Independent Online

Kyle Spencer, who was born in Glasgow but has lived in California since he was four years old, is to make his tennis debut for Britain at next month's Olympic Games in Sydney alongside Barry Cowan, of Lancashire. The freshmen will try to emulate Tim Henman and Neil Broad, who won the men's doubles silver medal at Atlanta in 1996.

Kyle Spencer, who was born in Glasgow but has lived in California since he was four years old, is to make his tennis debut for Britain at next month's Olympic Games in Sydney alongside Barry Cowan, of Lancashire. The freshmen will try to emulate Tim Henman and Neil Broad, who won the men's doubles silver medal at Atlanta in 1996.

The South African-born Broad announced his retirement from international competition after Britain's Davis Cup defeat in the Czech Republic last February, and Henman and Greg Rusedski will only play singles in Sydney.

Henman and the Canadian-born Rusedski are worried about Britain's critical shortage of back-up players, including a specialist doubles team to ease their load in Davis Cup ties. Whether Cowan, aged 25, and Spencer, 24, both left-handers, provide a solution remains to be seen.

Although ranked 30th in Britain at singles - he barely jogs the computer's memory at 301 in the world - Spencer's world doubles ranking of No 128 makes him Britain's No 1. Cowan, Britain's No 6 singles player at 175 in the ATP Tour's entry system, is the nation's No 4 doubles player with a world ranking of 222.

"I'm very excited," Spencer said as he prepared for a second grade ATP Tour event, in Lexington, Kentucky. He added that it felt "a bit strange" to be making his first international appearance at an Olympics.

Not that he feels strange about bringing another unmistakably North American accent to the English game. "I've spent loads of time in England," he said. "I played in the summer junior tournaments and come back regularly now for the grass-court season. Most of my family still live in England, in Ruislip and High Wycombe."

Spencer's parents are English, and he happened to be born in Scotland because his mother, Carole, was working at the Queen Mother's Hospital in Glasgow at the time. He was raised in Palos Verdes, California, an area familiar to America's leading players, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport, and took a degree in international relations and political science at the University of Southern California. While there, Spencer developed a successful doubles partnership with George Bastle, the Chicago-born Swiss.

Spencer has been playing full-time for two years. Although keen to make his singles ranking respectable, he concentrates on doubles in the hope of developing a financially viable career. "If you are in the top 50 [in doubles] you are going to make between $80,000 [£54,000] and $100,00 a year, which is better than some other jobs I could think of," he said.

He has reached the doubles final at two Challenger events, in Yokohama, with Michael Joyce, and in Poland, with Jocelyn Robichaud. He partnered Cowan this year at Nottingham, Queen's, and Wimbledon. "We complement each other in that we both try to play aggressively," Spencer said.

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