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Lloyd looks for Davis Cup X Factor

Jonathan Overend | 20:22 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

It must have been the curiosity factor which lured the likes of Tim Henman and The Duchess of Gloucester to the National Tennis Centre for day one of the Davis Cup selection play-off.

At times the calibre of the star-studded viewing balcony outweighed the courts, where six relative unknowns to the wider world fought for an international call-up.

It would have made for classic reality TV.

Six wannabe players, complete with heart monitors to assess their reaction under pressure, three courts, side by side with no ball boys, and a place as Andy Murray's team-mate up for grabs.

All that was missing was a first-night eviction and diary room confessions.

Lloyd announced last month that with no obvious contenders to join Murray and Ross Hutchins in the team for the fast-approaching tie with Ukraine, a play-off would be staged. Opinion was splt.

GB Davis Cup captain John Lloyd

The captain should know who to pick, goes one argument, that is what he is paid to do. A selection should be made based on form, ranking, individual judgement and background knowledge.

After all, would we expect Andrew Strauss to hold a batting duel in the nets between Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara to decide Andrew Flintoff's replacement for the next Test?

On the other hand, the play-off has merit simply because the six players are novices in best-of-five set conditions - they ply their trade on the futures and challenger circuits where it's best-of-three all the way.

Lloyd wants to see who can go the distance, who can recover from two sets down, who can hold serve when pain arrives deep into a fifth set. So this week, it's three best-of-five matches - a survival of the fittest if you like.

Most impressive on the first day was Josh Goodall, the British number three, who beat Colin Fleming in straight sets.

Goodall played the final of a futures event in Italy the day before and got home at gone midnight. But after a decent sleep, he arrived in Roehampton clearly benefiting from the match practice.

Sessions with sports psychologist Roberto Forzoni appear to be paying off for the notoriously spiky 23-year-old from Basingstoke. He kept his cool when line calls were going against him and served out the match impressively with a nice variety of baseline and net play.

His coach Jeremy Bates thought it was the best he'd played for a long time and Goodall looks favourite to get the nod as second singles player.

But James Ward and Chris Eaton will push him hard on the evidence of Monday's play.

Ward, the British number four, won in five sets against teenager Dan Evans, recovering from losing sets three and four to play his best set in the decider to take the match.

He unleashed his powerful backhand to good effect - both down the line and cross-court - and it was probably the most impressive shot of the day across the three courts.

Eaton beat Alex Slabinsky in four sets (British number seven beats number six) in a match with some scintillating exchanges. Eaton's had some rough results since his name-making run through qualifying at Wimbledon last year but has the big serve which could cause a surprise this week.

Slabinsky looked distraught, slamming his racket into his bag. He clearly wants the pick, which will delight the captain, and has two more matches to earn it.

Meanwhile, one couldn't help feeling sorry for another of the balcony observers, Jamie Baker. The unlucky Scotsman fractured his toe a couple of weeks ago, forcing him out of the play-offs and any tennis for two months.

This on top of the serious illness which he contracted almost a year ago, which almost ended his playing days. Hopefully his chance will come again.


  • Comment number 1.

    All sounds good, however, the person who gets through has to play a non-Brit. May find that task a tad harder!

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog Jonathan, thanks for the update of these Davis Cup selection play-off matches.

  • Comment number 3.

    Very insightful, kind of format might be a blueprint for breeding good national competion. Thanks.

  • Comment number 4.

    He may have lost today, but I believe Dan is the man for the job. He may not qualify to play against Ukraine this time around, but he's the man for the future IMHO.

  • Comment number 5.

    How fitting that on a day 6 Brits began to fight for the final 2 single berths for the Davis Cup against Ukraine, Andy Murray was busy defeating the Ukrainian #1 out in Dubai

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm amazed that after so many years of British tennis suffering from the players being handed everything on a plate, people still think it a good idea that the places should be handed out by the captain, and not earned.

    Sports men and women only get to be winners if they are battle hardened and hungry. Bring on these play-offs, and good on Lloyd for introducing them!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Having players earn their places is a great idea. Therefore, there should also have been a play-off between Ross Hutchins and Jamie Murray. It may LOOK as if Ross has slightly better form at the moment, but how can you judge when it may be the other doubles partner who is the deciding factor in success or failure for the team?
    As far as I remember, Jamie has won Davis Cup rubbers in the past and Ross hasn't. Jamie also still has the higher ranking of the two.
    I think Jamie has been unjustly ditched without being given a chance to prove himself.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ 7

    True Jamie Murray has won DC level matches but his partners were Tim and Greg at the time. So as you say you have to look at partners.

    Ross has had the more consistent results recently, and i think Andy may prefer playing with him. Ross also has a little more ability on the singles court which surely helps so i think he deserves his place in the side.

  • Comment number 9.

    Boggo excluded on past DC record,but why was Bloomfield excluded-especially as he ran 37 ranked Bolelli so close in Marseille?

  • Comment number 10.

    @ 9

    i agree i think Bloomfield has been harshly excluded.
    He had a great end to last year, yes he started slowly this year, but that may have been a direct consequence to being 'hungover' from last year, and has also had some small niggling injurys and a bad cold to deal with this year.

    Bloomers is 'ok' at doubles, has won a match at Wimbledon in the past and I think he should have at least been given a chance to prove his worth.

    I think JL may have excluded him on age basis as he is one of the older brits still on the tour, even if that's only 25 (not that i agree with it), but its does kind of smell of favouritism.

  • Comment number 11.

    "It would have made for classic reality TV."

    Pity the BBC didn't have the foresight to make a short documentary about the play-off event/general state of British tennis. That might have been genuinely worth watching. Oh well!

  • Comment number 12.

    All this talk of Eaton going some way into Wimnledon last year and Bloomfield won a doubles match in Wimbledon as if
    Well our tennis is pretty pathetic anyway, except for AM - who incidentaly nearly lost his way last night.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with those who feel that all the top ranking British players should have been invited including Bogdanovic and Bloomfield. Real competition between these players in a 5 set format would be good for them all. Also like the idea of the BBC being involved - could only benefit tennis generally and would be a tremendous reminder that professional sportsmen regularly deal with more drama than most reality shows show in a year!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Bogdanovic never again please.

  • Comment number 15.

    Bogdanovic has had enough opportunities to prove himself and failed badly each time.

  • Comment number 16.

    And this organisation does not tolerate failure?

  • Comment number 17.

    Re: Post 11 - Pity the BBC didn't have the foresight to make a short documentary about the play-off event/general state of British tennis. That might have been genuinely worth watching.

    Think this article only happened after some viewer texts about playoffs during Andy Murray first match in Dubai.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why is Richard Bloomfield always passed over by John Lloyd?

    He's ranked 306, higher than 4 of those invited to the play-off (and, indeed, Jamie Baker who pulled out), and recently qualified for the ATP tournament in Marseille. He qualified for Queen's last year, as well as losing 8-6 in the final set of the final round of Wimbledon qualifying. He has also won a round at Wimbledon (in 2006), which is more than anyone else in the play-off except Chris Eaton

    He's gone on record (in ACE's British Tennis supplement) saying that he's available for the Davis Cup but has, to my knowledge, only been picked for one training camp..

    Can this question be put to Mr Lloyd, whose play-off idea I thoroughly approve?

  • Comment number 19.

    #17 billymgilly

    So you are saying the BBC wouldn't even have had the foresight to write this blog article if they hadn't got texts about the playoffs, never mind make a short documentary about it? I rest my case!


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