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Great Britain's Davis Cup results may have been decidedly mixed in recent years, but the team has rarely enjoyed the best of fortune. This run continued on Thursday when the draw for next year's competition presented them with the far from easy task of an opening tie in Israel.
The winner of the Europe/Africa zone match, which takes place on March 4-6, will then play a promotion/relegation tie for the right to play in the competition's 2006 world group, the 16 members of which compete for the cup.
The era during which Tim Henman, 30, and Greg Rusedski, 31, have dominated the team is coming to an end, and Jeremy Bates, the captain, must have been hoping for easier opponents who would have given him the option of easing the youngsters Alex Bogdanovic, 20, and Andrew Murray, 17, into Davis Cup battle.
The likes of Zimbabwe or Luxembourg might have provided such an opportunity, but Israel away makes such a selection more problematic. They are led by world number 148 Noam Okun and Harel Levy, who is ranked 169. But, perhaps crucially, they also have an excellent doubles pairing in Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, who are both ranked inside the world's top 30 at doubles and are a regular pairing on the tour circuit.
The doubles rubber often proves to be pivotal, and Henman and Rusedski will certainly not begin as favourites against Erlich and Ram on home soil. If Bogdanovic or Murray were to play one of the opening singles, this could well mean Britain facing the likely prospect of being 2-1 down at best going into the final day of reverse singles.
However, Bates may take the view that simply continuing with an ageing and increasingly injury prone two-man team Henman yesterday withdrew from the Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon tournament next week because of shoulder and back injuries would have only short-term benefits, and grasp the nettle.
Last weekend's 3-2 defeat in Austria also underlined the disadvantage of a two-man line-up. The misfortune of the rain that prevented any play on the Friday condemned Henman and Rusedski to playing three five-set matches in two days, and the Austrians clearly benefited from having a fresh pair to play and win the doubles.
Security will also be a concern for the British team in Israel, but the Lawn Tennis Association put it in perspective by saying: “We will obviously be liaising with the Israeli Tennis Federation, the ITF [International Tennis Federation] and our own security consultants to ensure that security is at the level required I have absolutely no doubt it will be.”
Meanwhile, Austria's reward for beating Britain and keeping their place in the world group is a tough away draw away against fourth-seeded Australia, led by Lleyton Hewitt.
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