23rd February 2009
Sessions with sports psychologist Roberto Forzoni appear to be paying off for the notoriously spiky 23-year-old from Basingstoke.
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. 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.