Britain stays alive with Davis Cup doubles win

Henman, Rusedski topple U.S. pair, cut deficit to 2-1

April 04, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BIRMINGHAM, England -- Tim and Greg. Greg and Tim. They are the reason tennis is a year-round talking point again in Britain, and the reason the capacity of the National Indoor Arena here had to be expanded twice to meet ticket demand for this first-round Davis Cup match against the United States.

Yesterday, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski played well enough together to ensure that those ticket-holders won't have to watch meaningless tennis today.

Their 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 victory over Todd Martin and Alex O'Brien narrowed the Americans' lead to 2-1 in this rematch of the first Davis Cup series in 1900.

But the U.S. team still needs only one victory in today's two remaining singles matches to advance to the quarterfinals, while the British need a sweep. In the first reverse singles match, Henman will face Martin; in the second, Rusedski will face Jim Courier.

Courier, originally scheduled to play doubles with O'Brien, instead rested after his 4-hour-12-minute, five-set singles win over Henman. For those who put stock in statistics, it is worth noting that when Courier plays Davis Cup, the United States is 12-0.

"Jim's so motivated, so positive in this setting," the American captain, Tom Gullikson, said. "He really feeds off the team atmosphere."

Martin and O'Brien started positively yesterday, winning the first set after breaking Henman in the eighth game. They are a complementary pairing: the 6-foot-6 Martin is forceful and one of the game's better returners; the 6-1 O'Brien is quick around the court and the net.

But as the match wore on, Henman and Rusedski lifted their level of play with the 9,400 spectators urging them on, and only some inspired tennis from Martin and O'Brien kept the Britons from closing out the match in the fourth-set tie-breaker.

In the fifth set, O'Brien saved three break points in the second game on his serve, but could not save the fourth. The Britons had a 2-0 lead, and they would not surrender it, closing out the match on the left-handed Rusedski's serve.

"Yesterday was a rough day for both of us," Henman said of the Americans' two singles wins. "But today's a bit different, and now we're excited about tomorrow."

Henman and Rusedski, domestic rivals for public attention and sponsorship contracts, have seldom played doubles together. But in preparation for this event, they entered their first tournament together in February in London and won the title.

Martin and O'Brien are also infrequent partners. Their record together before yesterday was 4-4. When he arrived in Birmingham, Gullikson did not intend to use Martin in doubles because he was still recovering from an abdominal strain and Gullikson wanted to keep him fresh for singles.

But after Martin dominated Rusedski on Friday in straight sets by playing superbly, the American captain changed his lineup this morning, replacing Courier with Martin.

The result was Gullikson's 12th different doubles combination in his 17 series as captain, and though his choices produced some spectacular tennis on occasion, the experiment was ultimately unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, defending Davis Cup champion Sweden stayed alive when Nicklas Kulti and Jonas Bjorkman beat Slovakia's Karol Kucera and Dominik Hrbaty, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-3. But the Swedes still trail 2-1.

Switzerland became the first team to reach the final eight with a 3-0 victory over Italy, last year's runner-up. Marc Rosset and Lorenzo Manta clinched it with a 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Stefano Pescosolido and Laurence Tieleman.

Boris Becker and David Prinosil beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Olhovsky, 6-7 (7-4), 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8, giving Germany a 2-1 lead over Russia.

Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge overpowered brothers Wayne and Byron Black, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, as Australia took a 2-1 lead over Zimbabwe.

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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