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By Stuart Fraser

Davis Cup back at Braehead

It is the place where, more than five years ago, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, hailed at the time as stars in the making, lined up on opposing teams in a Davis Cup Euro/Africa Zone Group One 2nd Round tie between Great Britain and Serbia & Montenegro.

It was Djokovic who ended the weekend at the Braehead Arena as the one celebrating as it was his side who clinched a 3-2 victory.  Since then, their respective countries have went on very different paths in tennis’s international team competition, which could not be highlighted more by the positions in which the two players find themselves this weekend.

Djokovic, on the back of beating Rafael Nadal in the final of the US Open on Monday night, is a part of the Serbia team in Belgrade aiming to continue the defence of their title when they face Argentina in the World Group semi-final.  The world No.1 won’t be in action today due to injury, but is expected to return should the tie go to a third day.

Murray, on the other hand, finds himself taking on a 27-year-old unranked law student, Sebo Kiss, as he aims to help drag his country out of Group Two, the third tier of the competition, in their promotion play-off against Hungary.

The Scot will, of course, be delighted to be back in his own homeland, but he will surely have a feeling of envy as he sees his good friend aim to help Serbia to another Davis Cup victory.  There is no doubt that Djokovic’s success in the competition last year has played a massive part in his 2011 match record of 64 wins and two losses so far.

Despite the level of opponent Murray will come up against this weekend, the world No.4 will treat it just the same as any other competitive match.  Granted though, he will only have to play at, most, 50 per cent to get two points for his country.

The level of Murray’s opponent today will bring back memories for the Braehead crowd of Murray’s 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 victory against Laurent Bram, of Luxembourg, in July.  Bram, like Kiss, was also unranked and only managed to win a total of fifteen points in a match which lasted just 52 minutes.

Murray warned us yesterday not to expect a similar scoreline today as he is still feeling the effects of a gruelling fortnight in New York.  However, the fact that Kiss has played just four ITF events since his last Davis Cup appearance in July 2008 means that we can’t help dreaming of another “triple bagel”.

Kiss reached a career high ranking of 531 in September 2005 before he decided to give up full-time tennis and study law at university.  The Hungarian’s final exam is due in November, but he has left the books at home this week to fully concentrate on his tennis.

Despite his lack of top level experience, Murray is not the first top player Kiss has faced in his career.  He once took on Djokovic in qualifying of a Challenger in Budapest in May 2004 and put up a respectable performance before losing 7-6, 6-4, albeit the Serb was only a fledgling 16-year-old at the time.

While his match today is a write-off, the Hungarians may be hopeful of taking an early lead in the tie when their No.1, Attila Balazs, takes on James Ward in the first match of the day at 3pm. 

Balazs is currently ranked 262, although he reached as high as No.153 in November last year, and is a regular on the Challenger circuit.  Ward will understandably be the favourite off the back of some good performances this summer which gives him a current ranking of No.149.  But as we have often seen in past Davis Cup ties, form and rankings can go out of the window.

Whatever happens in today’s matches, tomorrow’s doubles rubber will be live.  Off the back of consecutive grand slam quarter-final runs at Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins will be confident of a victory against Balazs and Kornel Bardoczky, who is the only other player in the Hungary team with a world ranking of No.880.

There is a clear gulf between the two countries, particularly highlighted by the difference in finances.  The LTA have an annual budget of £65million, whereas, according to Hungarian captain Miklos Hornok, his federation only has a maximum of £500,000 to spend each year, ironically the same as the food budget of the LTA’s National Tennis Centre in Roehampton in 2009.

Money doesn’t always guarantee success though, as we saw when Lithuania beat Great Britain in 2010.  It is Murray’s appearance at Braehead this weekend which will guarantee a British victory and promotion to Group One.

Hope for the future

Oliver Golding’s victory in the Boys’ Singles at the US Open was indeed a cause for celebration.

There has been much chatter about the 17-year-old Brit following some good showings on the junior circuit in recent years.  And his win at Flushing Meadows serves to further illustrate the talent that he has.

He has joined an illustrious list of winners of the US Open Boys’ title which includes Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg, Andy Roddick and a certain Andy Murray who won the event in 2004.

There are a number of other recognisable names on the winners’ list including Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov.  But whilst winning the junior US Open title is generally a sign of a future top 100 player, it is by no means a guarantee.

23-year-old Dusan Lojda, the 2006 champion, has, as of yet, only reached a career high world ranking of No.161.  No doubt there would have been high hopes for American Brian Dunn when he won the event in 1992, but No.153 was the highest ranking which he achieved.

The truth is that the journey is just beginning for Golding.  Questions such as ‘will Golding be as good as or even better than Murray?’ are pointless at this stage.  There is no way of telling as it is a player’s transition from the junior to the senior circuit which is the most critical stage of his career.

In general, it was an impressive showing from the British juniors with George Morgan and Kyle Edmund also reaching the semi-finals in New York.  It does, understandably, create a bit of excitement and hope in a country which has been starved of top 100 players.

The LTA will be rejoicing after receiving a battering in recent years for the lack of talent coming through.  But, again, the critical stage is yet to come for these players as they progress into the senior game.

Remember the case of Martin Lee, a former world junior No.1 who was the subject of much hope for the future during the late 90s.  In the end, Lee only managed a career high ranking of No.94, well below what many were estimating.

It is a good sign that Britain currently has a number of promising juniors.  But when some of these players begin to do decent things on the senior circuit, only then can we be fully satisfied that the LTA is indeed on the right track.