Ward digs deep in five-set epic to lift Britain off the bottom

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The Independent Online

Beating arguably the weakest opposition Britain have ever faced in the Davis Cup should be kept in perspective, but James Ward had every right to be proud of his tie-winning performance against Tunisia here yesterday. Ward secured victory in this Europe Africa Zone Group Two tie by beating Malek Jaziri 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 after a gruelling encounter that lasted 15 minutes short of four hours.

Ward, who secured Britain's first point with victory in the second singles rubber on Friday, has been suffering from a heavy cold but on several occasions showed resilience to fight his way back into contention, especially when trailing 4-2 in the deciding set.

With Jamie Baker beating Slim Hamza 6-1, 6-4 in the concluding rubber, Britain won the tie 4-1, though the victory was by no means as comfortable as that scoreline might suggest. Even Saturday's doubles, in which Jamie Murray and Colin Fleming were favourites, proved a tight match, the Scottish pair eventually winning in four sets.

Britain now face a home tie in July against Luxembourg. Andy Murray, who has missed Britain's last three matches, is expected to take part, which is just as well. Gilles Müller, Luxembourg's best player, is ranked No 90 in the world, 124 places above Ward, the British No 2.

Müller, 27, reached the US Open quarter-finals three years ago and in 2005 beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and Andy Roddick in New York. The winners of the July tie will go into a September play-off against Belarus or Hungary to decide who will be promoted into Europe Africa Zone Group One.

Jaziri, the world No 325, was Tunisia's only player ranked in the top 1000 and raised his game throughout this tie, during which he was on court for 13 sets and nearly 10 hours. Ward admitted afterward that he had not been at his best, but the 24-year-old Londoner showed the same spirit that brought him victories in last summer's relegation play-off against Turkey.

Ward twice levelled the match by winning the second and fourth sets, though Jaziri seemed to have made a decisive break when the Briton played his worst game to trail 4-2 in the decider, dropping his serve with three wild forehands and a double fault. The world No 325 had a point to go 5-2 up, but Ward saved it with a forehand cross-court winner and went on to break back. At 6-6 a tiring Jaziri was broken again and Ward served out for victory, his opponent putting a forehand in the net on the first match point.

Ward said afterwards that he had struggled with his breathing due to a blocked nose. "There are times when you're not playing well and you have to dig deep and find something from somewhere and in the end I came through," he said.