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One of the enduring qualities of the Davis Cup format is the importance it places on the doubles. During grand slams the most entertaining of doubles matches are often played to half-empty arenas. But in Davis Cup, the doubles position as the third rubber and the only match on the middle day means there is always huge interest.
Britain had been blessed with a highly successful pairing in Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who won eight out of nine doubles in Davis Cup. But Britain never won an overall match in the world group with those two players. The effort of three often five-set matches in three days proved too much, and without a specialist doubles pairing Britain became a yo-yo team, constantly facing relegation battles.
The Europe/Africa Zone might not be the most glamorous circuits of tennis, but British hopes of a return to the World Group rest on going to tricky destinations such as Tel Aviv and coming away with a win. The first day of the Israel/Great Britain match ended at 1-1. Rusedski had done his part in dispatching Harel Levy, but Alex Bogdanovic lost to Noam Okum, and the Israel pair of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram are ranked in the top thirty in the world.
After Henman's retirement from the team, captain Jeremy Bates has been given little choice in his selections. Andrew Murray, winner of the junior US Open is an emerging talent, but untried at senior level. David Sherwood is a gifted player who has languished on the tour, with rumours of extracurricular distractions leading to a rift with the LTA.
Everything pointed to a doubles loss, a deciding fifth rubber, and dilemma over whether to play Bogdanovic or one of Murray or Sherwood. The temptation to play Rusedski in the doubles must have been enormous for Bates.
Yet it was the untried partnership of Murray and Sherwood that triumphed in four sets, setting up a comfortable third day for Britain as Rusedski wrapped up the tie against Okum.
Murray, who is still only 17, showed no sign of nerves on his debut. He is a player who makes no secret of his ambition to win at the highest level, and his calmness displayed in front of a noisy crowd will win him many admirers. It should certainly gives Bates confidence in picking the youngster, either to replace Bogdanovic who seems to buckle under pressure or, when the time comes, Rusedski.
For many years the gulf in experience and performance between Henman and Rusedski and the next tier of players was huge, and meant that any injury was keenly felt. Yet it was constant playing of Henman and Rusedski in every match that deprived other British players of the experience at the highest level.
Henman's departure has left Bates with a the opportunity to experiment with players without criticism. The Tim and Greg double act is over, but the future of British tennis might not be so bad after all.
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