Stage is set for Murray to play the hero

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The Independent Online

Drama is never very far away when Andy Murray is around and Britain's Davis Cup team will be hoping the stage is perfectly set for their leading man to make a grand entrance at the Braehead Arena here today.

The first day of their Europe-Africa Zone tie against Serbia and Montenegro ended all square yesterday, with both matches going to form. Greg Rusedski played soundly to defeat Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, but Arvind Parmar, replacing Murray in the singles as the Scot continued his recovery from a bacterial infection, was beaten 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 by Novak Djokovic, Serbia's leading player.

Cue Murray. The British No 1 teams up with Rusedski this afternoon against Nenad Zimonjic and Ilia Bozoljac in the doubles, a rubber which the home side may well have to win to secure overall victory.

Rusedski, who was on court for more than three hours yesterday, faces a tough task when he plays his third match in three days tomorrow against Djokovic, who at 18 is 14 years his junior, in the first of the reverse singles. It is easy to envisage a scenario in which the match then stands at 2-2 and Murray is asked to replace Parmar against Tipsarevic and win the tie for Britain.

At least Murray appears to be recovering well from his sickness. "He looks fine," Rusedski said of his British team-mate yesterday. "He's smiling, he's happy, he's the same as always. He's playing a bit of football in the locker-room and eating his junk food like he normally does."

In the absence of the local hero, the atmosphere in the Braehead Arena was strangely subdued yesterday, despite the efforts of James Auckland, the fourth member of the British team, to raise the noise levels from the sidelines.

Perhaps it was because the opening match rarely caught fire. The first set could hardly have been more straightforward, with Rusedski finding his service rhythm immediately and Tipsarevic winning only four points on the Briton's serve in the entire set. The Serb dropped his own serve to love to trail 4-2 as Rusedski played a canny game, hitting low, sliced backhands and waiting for his opponent to make a mistake.

There were no breaks in the second set and Rusedski had dropped only five more points on his serve until the tie-break.

The Serb, however, is a thoughtful individual - he has a quotation by Dostoyevsky, "Beauty will save the world", tattooed on his arm in Japanese ("I was going to have it done in Russian but it didn't look good," Tipsarevic said yesterday) - and he gradually worked out ways to get the ball back. A sweet backhand return down the line put the Serb 2-0 up in the tie-break, which he went on to win 7-2. For a player who hit 30 aces in the match Rusedski became curiously vulnerable on his serve, thanks in no small part to 11 double faults. He kept his nerve, however, and secured the match by breaking serve in the final game of both the third and fourth sets.

Tipsarevic played a brave game at 4-5, saving five match points, but Rusedski adopted a more aggressive approach when he had his next chance two games later. Running round his backhand to meet Tipsarevic's serve, the Briton clinched the match with three crisply struck forehands. Tipsarevic was wearing glasses for the first time and fell heavily twice in the match, but he refused to offer either as an excuse.

Djokovic also had a nasty fall against Parmar, which was one of the only moments that offered the British No 5 any hope. Having failed to recover from an early break in the first set, despite having four break points, Parmar was serving at 2-2 when Djokovic slipped on the first point and injured his elbow. The Serb resumed after treatment, however, and promptly broke Parmar's serve after the Briton had led 40-15. He went on to win the set 6-2.

Hopes that Parmar might win a Davis Cup rubber for the first time - he has now lost all six he has played - flickered briefly again when he had Djokovic 0-30 down on his serve at 3-4 in the third set, but again the Serb recovered. Djokovic broke to lead 6-5 with a beautiful backhand winner down the line and served out for victory in the rubber with a thunderous ace on his first match point.