Roger Taylor's reign as Britain's Davis Cup captain began with a lottery win yesterday which guaranteed home advantage on a grass court against Ecuador in a World Group qualifying tie after Wimbledon in July.
Seated on the front row for the draw at the International Tennis Federation's headquarters in Roehampton, Taylor said a nervous flutter went through his body when he saw Britain paired with Ecuador. The two nations have not met previously in the competition, so lots were drawn to decide who would play at home.
Taylor feared the worst - "us plus them in Ecuador on a clay court" - and did not hide his relief when the draw went Britain's way. "It's a huge piece of luck," he said, "because now we are going to be able to get our boys on to a grass court, in front of a big crowd, straight after Wimbledon."
Although the time and place have yet to be confirmed, Wimbledon's No 1 Court or Eastbourne's Devonshire Park are favoured on the weekend of either 14-16 July or 21-23 July. "I would say at this stage we will be at Wimbledon," Taylor said, "and we definitely will be on grass.
"Wimbledon assure us they can have No 1 Court in prime condition that soon after the championships. With two of the best grass-court players in the world, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, we have to admit we will now be favourites to go through."
The winners will play in the Ã©lite, 16-strong World Group next year. The losers will be consigned to zonal competition, a fate Britain have dreaded since losing to the Czech Republic in the first round of the World Group on a slow clay court in Ostrava in February.
Taylor's predecessor, the outspoken David Lloyd, was dismissed shortly after the Ostrava tie, along with his brother, John Lloyd, who was coach to the team. The coach is now Jeremy Bates, Britain's No 1 before the advent of Rusedski and Henman.
Rusedski, disappointed by the dismissals, waited until the eve of yesterday's draw before reaffirming his commitment to the Davis Cup and enabling Taylor to present a united front.
Ecuador are virtually a family unit, with Nicolas Lapentti, currently ranked above Henman and Rusedski at No 7 on the ATP Tour's tournament entry system, now joined on the circuit by his 17-year-old younger brother, Giovanni. Playing together, they reached the second round of the doubles at the recent Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Nicolas, 23, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open in 1999, rates Giovanni, the winner of the Under-16 title at the Orange Bowl last year, a better prospect than himself: "He plays a more aggressive game than me, serves well and has a great backhand."
Andres Gomez, 40, a cousin of the Lapenttis, is Giovanni's godfather and Nicolas's Davis Cup doubles partner, although 10 years have elapsed since Gomez reached the peak of his career by defeating Andre Agassi in the French Open singles final.
"Nicolas is in great shape mentally," Gomez says. "He is very happy, very relaxed and, most of all, he knows he has a chance [against anyone]."
And Giovanni? "Ha! The talented one," Gomez says. "Giovanni has great hands. If he works as hard as Nicolas on the practice court, he will be a good player."
Britain and "The Family" are tied, 1-1, having only played Nicolas Lapentti so far. Henman won on a concrete court in the quarter-finals in Scottsdale, Arizona, 6-3, 6-2. Rusedski was defeated in the second round of the Italian Open on the clay of Rome, 6-3, 6-3, and will welcome a change of pace.
DAVIS CUP WORLD GROUP 2001 Qualifying round (seeds in caps): FRANCE v Austria; GREAT BRITAIN v Ecuador; ITALY v Belgium; Chile v MOROCCO; Uzbekistan v NETHERLANDS; SWEDEN v India; SWITZERLAND v Belarus; ZIMBABWE v Romania. (Ties to take place 14-16 July 2000 and 21-23 July 2000).