Tunisians tell of 'scary' build up to Davis Cup

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The Independent Online

James Ward, Britain's No 1 singles player in this weekend's Davis Cup tie against Tunisia in Bolton, said that most of the home team had had a difficult start to the year, but their indifferent form and niggling injuries cannot compare with their opponents' experiences. The Tunisians have had their preparations disrupted by their country's recent revolution, which ignited upheavals throughout the region.

Malek Jaziri, Tunisia's best player at No 325 in the world rankings, was training in Tunis when a practice session was brought to a rapid halt by gunfire. "I was on the court with Malek when we heard guns being fired and we had to leave," Wallid Jallali, his coach, said yesterday. "People were shouting: 'They're coming! The helicopters are coming!' We did not leave our houses for a week. It was scary."

Jaziri had returned to Tunisia from a training camp in Spain one week before the revolution. "It wasn't easy," he said. "I had six days when I didn't practise. There were very big problems, though it's safe now."

While the team appeared happy with the outcome of the upheavals – "We needed that political change," Sami Ghorbel, the second singles player, said – one squad member, Ahmed Triki, did not make it to Britain after the troubles delayed his visa application. Jallali, has replaced him as a nominated player just to make up the numbers.

Ghorbel, a 19-year-old student on a tennis scholarship at university in Alabama, does not even have a world ranking. Slim Hamza, who will play doubles with Jaziri, is world No 1,602 in singles (he has precisely one ranking point, courtesy of one win in a Futures tournament in Tunisia last June) and does not have a doubles world ranking.

Leon Smith, Britain's captain, sprang a surprise when he omitted Alex Bogdanovic, having recalled the 26-year-old to the squad last week after a three-year absence. Instead, Smith's singles players are Ward (world No 214), who has lost at the first hurdle in six of his seven tournaments this year, and Jamie Baker (No 406), who has lost first time out in his last two. Although Bogdanovic (No 374) has lost all six of his live Davis Cup rubbers, he has at least won a Futures tournament in the United States this year. "James and Jamie are two guys with a lot of Davis Cup experience," Smith said. "It was a tough decision because all three have been playing very well since we've been together this week."

Andy Murray practised with the squad at Roehampton last week but did not make himself available for selection. However, his brother, Jamie, having returned to the world's top 50, is back after an absence of three years. He will partner Colin Fleming in the doubles.

Most of the tickets in the 1,800-capacity Bolton Arena have been sold for the first of three matches Britain must win to climb out of Europe Africa Zone Group Two, the competition's third tier. The winners will meet Ireland or Luxembourg in July.

Davis Cup schedule

(British names first):

Today (1pm start): J Baker v M Jaziri, J Ward v S Ghorbel

Tomorrow (1pm): J Murray and C Fleming v Jaziri and S Hamza

Sunday (midday): Ward v Jaziri, Baker v Ghorbel