Davis Cup win papers over cracks
Way down the international agenda on a tennis weekend with no shortage of talking points, from Ivo Karlovic's new world record 156mph serve to Jelena Dokic's first WTA title since 2002, Great Britain earned another crumb of Davis Cup respectability.
However, their tie with Tunisia - a second successive win for new captain Leon Smith - was undoubtedly closer than many had expected.
Full credit for that goes to Malek Jaziri, the visitors' number one, who excelled himself on all three days as he beat Jamie Baker in the opening singles, made an unexpected contest of the doubles with partner Slim Hamza, and come within three points of beating James Ward and taking us all the way to a nerve-shredding decider.
With Britain's recent record in fifth and deciding rubbers utterly abysmal (they haven't won a match from 2-2 since 1997) it was imperative for the health of the Bolton public that Ward got the job finished in the fourth match, which he finally did 8-6 in the final set after almost four hours.
Baker, who completed the 4-1 win with victory over Hamza in the last match, would have come to Britain's rescue had the tie still been live but nobody wanted the risk. This is the nation which lost to Lithuania, after all.
Britain's James Ward won both his singles matches against Tunisia in Bolton
In an erratic match, Ward played well in those tight closing moments, his serve holding up impressively, and the patience he displayed during some long rallies wore Jaziri mentally, demonstrated by the Tunisian's reckless smack of a haymaker forehand into the net to concede the vital break in the penultimate game.
Londoner Ward, suffering from sinus trouble, hasn't been in the best form with a series of early defeats in tournaments, but he showed the sort of gumption under pressure to suggest a future in the team, certainly as Andy Murray's number two in the next match.
Murray should come in for the promotion play-off with Luxembourg in July - he needs to play at some point before London 2012 to be eligible for the Olympic tennis tournament - and Ward will surely back him up. Colin Fleming and Jamie Murray are likely to remain as the doubles partnership, with Andy Murray allowed to enjoy the weekend slightly more than he has in the past by sticking to singles.
Apart from a wild gesture from Ward on match point, there were no extravagant celebrations in Bolton. Recovering one notch in Euro/Africa Zone II is not even worthy of a pitiful party-popper, and the horror of Lithuania remains too vivid in the memory.
But captain Smith, assisted by Colin Beecher and Nick Weal, has clearly got his boys on the right track. The likes of Ward and Baker are getting useful Davis Cup experience which, we must hope, will benefit them when they step up in class in a higher division next year.
Now back to the day jobs; the accumulation of ATP points for the under-performing British men (only Murray is in the top 200 at the time of writing - shameful) and the strategic planning for Smith, the head of men's tennis at the LTA, who has such a big job to arrest the dramatic recent decline in rankings.
The governing body remains under scrutiny, especially with Roger Draper nearing his five-year anniversary as chief executive.
On the final morning of the tie in Bolton, in a shock as significant in tennis terms as The Sun deciding to switch political allegiance, the normally mild-mannered Telegraph newspaper fired a series of indisputable facts in an incendiary article.
Always the paper of choice for the lawn tennis types, the Telegraph's comprehensive dismissal of Draper's tenure - highlighting missed targets and lavish expenditure - will have resonated painfully through the shires, with committee men choking on their cornflakes.
Invitations to Draper to express a view in response were declined by his people. You know a sport is in a mess when the boss feels too unperturbed/annoyed/afraid, whatever his reaction was, to speak about it. Could he not even come out to praise the team's performance?
In running the sport, Draper, who has support at the top table from two former Sport England colleagues, commercial man Bruce Philipps and development boss Tom Harlow, appears a chief increasingly detached from the workers beneath him.
Link man Steven Martens, in charge of performance for the past two years, is leaving at the start of April to head up the Belgian Football Association. Remaining on the payroll for now, he may have been expected to take his customary place on the Bolton bench in a tracksuit, yet instead he watched from a stool on the balcony wearing a black overcoat. He looked as good as gone.
When American guru Paul Annacone departed in September to coach Roger Federer, he became the last of Draper's big-money coaching signings to collect a final bag of bullion and ride off into a golden sunset.
Who is taking responsibility now? And who, most importantly, is going to be the new head of performance, to plug the vacuum created by the departure of Martens and Annacone?
It needs to be someone with a deep knowledge of tennis in Britain, preferably with experience and credibility who has run a performance programme before, and definitely someone who will work with Draper.
The problem is, nobody really fits the bill.
So many of British tennis' experienced figures are either disillusioned or have been dismissed from previous jobs. Others feel alienated, with much to offer but never consulted.
Coaches like David Lloyd, David Felgate, Jeremy Bates, Dave Sammell and Mark Petchey are all passionate about British tennis and always will be. Yet there are few good words to be heard from any of them about the organisation of their sport over the past five years.
Negativity abounds, admittedly, but surely they are not all wrong. This is the time for harmonious invitations to constructive discussions. If there are disagreements, use the arguments constructively to create better decisions and policies moving forward. Can it happen?
Draper needs to go on a bridge-building exercise, otherwise the search for a performance director will have to go out of the box, maybe out of the country, and - who knows - possibly out of the sport.