It was not, after all, a humiliating whitewash, nor was it all over in the blink of an eye. Britain's lowly-ranked Alan Mackin put up a valiant fight against Mark Philippoussis, of Australia, in the world group Davis Cup tie here this morning before going down 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in 1hr 13min.
Mackin, making his Davis Cup debut against the former Grand Slam finalist in the opening singles rubber of the first-round tie, broke Philippoussis's formidable serve three times and refused to give up his own serve lightly. But in the end he was overwhelmed by the Australian's superior game and match-hardened experience.
The 21-year-old Scot, drafted into the British team along with three other virtual unknowns following the withdrawal of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who are both injured, showed relatively few nerves as he stepped out on to the freshly-laid clay court at the International Tennis Centre in Homebush Bay.
Mackin, ranked no 331 in the world, lost his first service game, double-faulting twice to give the home team a 2-0 lead in the first set. But he saved three break points in the sixth game and broke back in the seventh after Philippoussis a Davis Cup veteran returning to team tennis after a three-year absence double-faulted on break point. A second break against Mackin gave Australia the first set in 35 minutes.
It seemed that the Briton whose experience consists mainly of minor satellite and challenger tournaments might crumble in the second set after his serve was broken in the first game. But he immediately broke back, winning six consecutive points including four against Philippousis's serve, delighting the 40 or so noisy British fans in red shirts and Union flag baseball caps.
The Australian, the hero of his country's Davis Cup victory over France on clay in 1999, broke again in the third game. He took the second set in 37 minutes after Mackin double-faulted to bring up set point.
A diminutive figure compared with the tall, bronzed Australian, Mackin looked like a young boy who had been let out to play with the seniors. "You need some sunblock on those legs, mate," yelled one Australian spectator, gazing in horror at the Scot's pale white limbs. But Mackin's spirited performance surprised the partisan crowd, who had turned up expecting a lopsided match with little drama.
The Scot, whose favourite surface is clay, having trained in the past with the claycourt specialist, Thomas Muster, showed signs of tiredness in the third set. He was broken early in the set, but saved a break point to prevent Philipoussis from taking a 5-1 lead, then broke back for 3-4. The Australian broke again for 5-3, then took the set in 31 minutes.
"It was a great feeling, particularly as it's been such a long time since I played at home," Philippoussis said.
The match was due to be followed by the second singles pitting Britain's Alex Bogdanovic, another Davis Cup debutant, against Lleyton Hewitt, the world no 1. Hewitt will also play in tomorrow's doubles, partnering the leading specialist Todd Woodbridge against Britain's unfancied Arvind Parmar and Miles Maclalgan.
DAVIS CUP World Cup first round (Sydney): Singles: M Philippoussis (Aus) bt A Mackin (GB) 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Australia lead Great Britain 1-0.
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