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By Stuart Fraser

Scottish success lifts gloom surrounding British tennis

In last weekís Talking Balls blog, I discussed the disastrous Davis Cup defeat to Poland on home soil.  Well, four Scots have done their bit to help lift some of the gloom surrounding British tennis after picking up titles across the globe at the weekend.

It has been one of the best weeks of the year in terms of British performances and it is most welcome considering how tennis fans in this country felt after the Davis Cup last weekend.  And who knows?  If Andy Murray had been in action at one of the ATP 250 events in Bucharest or Metz, it could well have been five Scottish title winners last week.

The most stunning result of the week for me was Colin Fleming and Ken Skupskiís first ATP World Tour title at the Open de Moselle in France.  It was their first main tour event as direct acceptances and they made the most of it.  To beat former Wimbledon champions Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra is one thing.  To beat the Frenchmen on their own patch though in front of a couple of thousand French fans makes the result even more impressive.

The result means Skupski has risen to No.76 in the doubles rankings and Fleming has broken the top 100 for the first time as he now sits at No.79.  The pair have put in a lot of hard work and effort and the rewards are thoroughly deserved.  Speaking to the pair this morning, they were obviously delighted with the result but they are clearly not going to get too carried away.  Both of them spoke about their future goal to play ATP main tour events week in, week out and gaining direct acceptance to the 2010 Australian Open is a huge goal for them.

If they continue their good run of form, Melbourne will surely be a destination for the guys in January.  However, in more immediate terms, the pair will return to the Challenger tour in Mons, Belgium next week and then Rennes, France the following week.  After that, they hope to return back to the main tour in either St Petersburg, Vienna or Lyon.

The pair have wrote an excellent blog for the ĎDoubles Visioní section on the ATP website and it is well worth a read to find out about a comical incident involving first class seats on a train. And also to see the photo Ken put up of Colin in the land of nod on that train. The link is:

Great to see another doubles player, Jamie Murray win another title on the challenger tour with Jamie Delgado.  Thatís his third title in the space of five weeks and as of today, he has returned to the top 100 at No.97.  As he has proven before, he is a talented doubles player and hopefully we will soon see him return to grand slams and the main tour.  Itís where he should be.

Jamie Baker also continued his recent run of form with victory in the futures event in Darwin, Australia.  Itís great to see the Scot picking up several victories on the futures circuit after going through a tough time last year when he contracted ITP which is a life-threatening blood condition.  Thankfully, he seems to have recovered and will enter the top 500 next week and edge a step closer to returning to the challenger tour.

Elena Baltacha finally achieved a lifetime goal when she entered the top 100 at No.93 today after winning the AEGON Pro-Series event in Shrewsbury on Saturday.  Baltacha has had a number of injuries in the past but she is a real fighter and itís great to see her finally break that barrier and enter the top 100.  Like Flemski, she also has a direct acceptance to the 2010 Australian Open in her sights.  Baltacha qualified this year but Iím sure she would rather not have to go through that process again.

Pack your bags for Lithuania

Last Wednesday, we found out our next Davis Cup opponents in Euro/Africa Zone Group 2 and itís a trip into the unknown as we head to Vilnius to take on Lithuania.

The first instinct of course is to check the rankings for the highest ranked Lithuanian.  If we were playing Spain or Switzerland, there would be no need to do this but sadly, the days of facing such elite nations in the world group are in the past.  Hopefully, these days may return in 2012.

19-year-old Ricardas Berankis is their highest ranked player at No.429.  Not one that I know too much about apart from his US Open junior success in 2007.  I also hear that he has trained with Roger Federer in the past.  Next on the list is Laurynas Grigelis at No.634 but it was Gvidas Sabeckis at No.798 who was selected as the second singles player for their last tie.

A quick look at the doubles rankings and the highest is Grigelis at No. 1037.  Now they say rankings donít matter in Davis Cup but if Britain donít win this tie next March, there is something seriously wrong.  We have six players ranked higher than Berankis and to highlight the gulf in resources even more, the Lithuanian Tennis Unionís annual budget is £100,000 compared to the LTAís £43m.

It looks like Andy Murray wonít play and to be honest, quite right too.  Murray has got his own career to focus on at the moment and a tie in Group 2 is not going to do him any good.  His absence will actually enable other Britís to gain some experience at a winnable level.

Dan Evans, James Ward, Colin Fleming and Josh Goodall are players I expect to be challenging for the singles slots in the team.  Others may include Dan Cox, Chris Eaton and Jamie Baker.  And what about Alex Bogdanovic?  Yes, he never won one of his six live rubbers in the past but surely he could get a win in Lithuania.  I think our current British No.3 should at least be considered by the captain.

Then to the doubles.  The doubles rubber is so crucial in Davis Cup and itís one that we have lost in the past four ties which has contributed to eventual defeat on each occasion.  Fleming & Skupski have sent a message out to Lloyd with their title win in Metz last week and I think itís time to go for this established pairing.  In fact, providing they continue getting the good results, then I think itís pretty much a certainty that they will be on the teamsheet come March.

Looking at the world group draw, Spain against Switzerland is a cracker of a tie.  I think this pairing will be enough to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both commit (providing they are injury-free).  What a Davis Cup rubber that would be!  Serbia are at home to the USA which should also be an entertaining match.  Expect the match to be played on the slowest clay possible, as stated by Serbian doubles specialist Dusan Vemic.

Anyway, back to Britain in Group 2.  A win for us and weíll play either Turkey or Ireland in the next round.  Time to go back to the rankings I think and search for some Irish players.

The year of the comeback

Kim Clijsters made a stunning comeback at the US Open last month.  Justine Henin has just announced that she will return to competitive tennis at the start of 2010.  And while searching for Jamie Bakerís futures results in Darwin last week, I saw a surprising name on the Womenís side of the draw in Alicia Molik.

The Olympic bronze-medallist and former World No.8 is obviously not receiving the same level of wild cards that Clijsters has received and that Henin will no doubt receive next year but itís good to see that the Australian is taking a patient route back into the game through the lower echelons of the tennis tour.

Molik played in the doubles with Meghan Shaughnessy at New Haven and the US Open last month but the pair lost both first round matches.  Molik has achieved some success though in recent weeks winning the first Darwin $25k event a fortnight ago in both singles and doubles and then followed it up with a semi-final run in the second Darwin $25k event last week.

On the Menís side, I see that Thailandís Paradorn Srichaphan is making a comeback in the doubles at the Thailand Open in Bangkok this week.  The former World No.9 hasnít played on the ATP tour since 2007 because of a wrist injury but will return this week on court with Danai Udomchoke.  Srichaphan is a national hero in his native country and will no doubt receive huge support from the fans when he returns to the court.

Talking about Srichaphan reminds me of the time he played Andy Murray in the semi-finals of the Thailand Open in 2005.  Murray was of course rapidly rising through the rankings at that point and produced a stunning performance to beat the home favourite on his own patch.

Anyway, itís interesting to hear of all these comebacks happening.  What or who next?  Sampras, Agassi, Navratilova? OK, Iíve taken it too far.

Where is David Nalbandian?

Earlier on this week, I watched some highlights of David Nalbandianís victory over Andy Murray at last yearís Paris Masters and then all of a sudden asked myself, where is the Argentine these days?

If youíre wondering the same, a quick search on Google revealed that he is out due to injury at the moment.  The former World No.3 last played in Estoril in May before receiving hip surgery later that month.  He will make his comeback in an exhibition event in Buenos Aires in December before returning to the tour ahead of the Australian Open in January.

Nalbandian isnít exactly past it at the age of 27 and it will be interesting to see what kind of a threat the all-court player poses when he does return to the tour next year.  Looking forward to it!