Scottish Daily Mail

This Davis Cup wild card feels like right move at the wrong time

- MARTIN SA­MUEL

I wouldn’t feel com­fort­able just go­ing straight in for the Fi­nal

If it was con­sid­ered un­likely that the out­post of Dun­blane would one day pro­duce Davis Cup cham­pi­ons for Great Bri­tain, then Ljubl­jana, cap­i­tal of Slove­nia, was even fur­ther off the radar.

Yet, tomorrow in Prague, a timetabled half-hour meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis fed­er­a­tion (ITf) may de­cide a match can be made. Al­jaz Be­dene, Slove­nia na­tive and Bri­tish cit­i­zen, will plead his case in the com­pany of a Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion (LTA) lawyer.

If suc­cess­ful, a young man from the city on the banks of the Ljubl­jan­ica river will be el­i­gi­ble to join the Bri­tish team that faces Bel­gium in Ghent in next week’s Davis Cup fi­nal. At which point it all gets rather awk­ward.

Be­dene is in­side the world’s top 50 right now, un­doubt­edly Bri­tain’s sec­ond best ten­nis player af­ter Andy Mur­ray. He is also use­ful on clay, the sur­face the Bel­gians have picked to put their op­po­nents at the great­est dis­ad­van­tage.

He could be Bri­tain’s se­cret weapon. But should we use it? Is this what Leon Smith, the cap­tain, wants? What about the Mur­ray broth­ers or Be­dene him­self? If he wins the day in Prague, there are huge calls to be made, and quickly.

No doubt there are those at the LTA pri­vately hop­ing the de­ci­sion is taken from their hands. If the ITf upholds its rul­ing that there can be no na­tion­al­ity changes in Davis Cup com­pe­ti­tion, the prob­lem goes away.

And why should the ITf fail to en­dorse its rule book? Against this, on Septem­ber 25, the ITf elected a new pres­i­dent, David Haggerty, plus nine new direc­tors among a board of 13. They might not feel as strongly about a rul­ing that only dates back to Jan­uary 1. It could go ei­ther way.

ITf leg­is­la­tion ef­fec­tive from the start of the year states that a player can­not rep­re­sent a sec­ond Davis Cup coun­try, even with a change of na­tion­al­ity. This means Be­dene’s ap­pear­ance for Slove­nia in three dead rub­bers be­tween 2010 and 2012 trumps the cer­e­mony last April that for­mally made him a Bri­tish cit­i­zen.

He claims his pa­per­work was sub­mit­ted long be­fore Jan­uary 1 and only de­lays in Home Of­fice pro­ce­dure meant he fell foul of the new ITf law. It is this plea he hopes the gov­ern­ing body will con­sider tomorrow.

Yet, for Great Bri­tain’s ten­nis team, this is much big­ger than mere pro­ce­dural wran­gling. There are eth­i­cal is­sues here, too, about the mean­ing and prin­ci­ples of in­ter­na­tional sport.

Be­dene is now a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, but the sched­ul­ing of his ap­peal no longer feels right. The gain for Bri­tain could be enor­mous, and what once felt al­tru­is­tic now ap­pears op­por­tunis­tic — the right move at the wrong time.

In mit­i­ga­tion, there is noth­ing plas­tic about Be­dene’s com­mit­ment to his adopted coun­try. He has lived here since 2008, has bought a house in Wel­wyn Gar­den City, pays his taxes here, trains at Gosling Sports Park and says he will re­main in Bri­tain when his ten­nis ca­reer is over.

‘It is very quiet,’ he said. ‘It is a nice place.’

Be­dene has put down roots; he is cer­tainly not pass­ing through or fly­ing a flag of con­ve­nience. It is not as if his path was blocked in Slove­nia when he trans­ferred, or he only seeks the ad­van­tage of Bri­tish fa­cil­i­ties.

Chris froome, Bri­tish cy­clist, has never lived in this coun­try. Lewis Hamil­ton has been a tax ex­ile since 2007. It could be ar­gued that, in his way, Be­dene is as Bri­tish as ei­ther of them.

Even so, there would be dis­com­fort at­tached to his se­lec­tion. There are only four in a Davis Cup team and, while James Ward would still be cho­sen, the chances of him get­ting to play in any of the matches would be slim with Be­dene avail­able.

Andy Mur­ray and Be­dene would be the likely sin­gles picks on fri­day and Sun­day, Andy and Jamie Mur­ray the Satur­day’s dou­bles pair­ing. Ward would be a by­stander; and Ward has been mag­nif­i­cent for his team up to here.

He may be ranked 160 to Be­dene’s 46, but he de­feated Amer­ica’s John Is­ner, the World No11, to help Bri­tain win a group­stage match last March. And, un­like Be­dene, he is used to the at­mos­phere of Davis Cup ten­nis — a rau­cous world away from the gen­teel cir­cuit. This ex­plains why no­body around the Great Bri­tain team is pre­pared to pub­licly com­mit to Be­dene, as yet.

If Mur­ray came out in sup­port of his in­clu­sion, only for the ITf to re­ject the ap­peal, there might be a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion with Ward later in the week. Even if his team-mate was philo­soph­i­cal about the is­sue, it would hardly be con­ducive to team spirit.

Be­dene ac­cepts this. He is a thor­oughly de­cent chap and, in the build-up to his hear­ing, ap­pears re­luc­tant to see his in­clu­sion as ir­re­sistible.

‘I would prob­a­bly talk to all the other boys to see how they felt about me join­ing the team for the fi­nal,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t feel com­fort­able just go­ing straight in.’

Mur­ray could be his cham­pion. He has been talk­ing up Be­dene’s tal­ent of late, hav­ing cho­sen him as a prac­tice part­ner on clay.

Hav­ing trod­den the un­likely path from Dun­blane to the pin­na­cle of his sport as Bri­tain’s only post-War Grand Slam men’s sin­gles win­ner, he is no doubt sin­gle-minded about his ob­jec­tive in Bel­gium.

This may be his one chance — Roger federer and Stanis­las Wawrinka for Switzer­land would make a for­mi­da­ble pair­ing next time — and he has given a lot to be here.

If Be­dene rep­re­sents Bri­tain’s strong­est op­tion, Mur­ray will ad­vo­cate go­ing with him and the un­for­tu­nate ex­cluded would have to deal with it. Yet how does Smith, the cap­tain, feel about break­ing up the team he has mar­shalled so im­pres­sively; and how will the pub­lic re­act to a co-Slove­nian tri­umph?

It is quite pos­si­ble to sup­port Be­dene’s right to be Bri­tish, while wish­ing for this team to fin­ish what it started with­out him.

Up to this point, Be­dene’s mo­tives, and Bri­tain’s, have been guilt-free. He came, fell in love with the coun­try and wanted to be part of it. Bri­tain, in turn, had lit­tle to gain from the al­liance.

Be­dene was a player around the top 100, bet­ter than what Bri­tain had — bar Mur­ray — but hardly a rea­son to break out the bunt­ing. There was noth­ing in it for him, be­yond a sense of be­long­ing; and noth­ing for us, bar a player who might get knocked out in Wim­ble­don’s sec­ond round, rather than its first.

Now there is much to gain for both sides. Be­dene could be a part of Bri­tain’s first suc­cess­ful Davis Cup team since 1936. Hence the squirm­ing.

Be­dene seems a very civilised sort, dare we say, Bri­tish. You can tell he is one of us at heart by how un­com­fort­able all this is making him feel. And that’s the nub of it; is our un­ease the clue that, deep down, we know it isn’t quite right?

 ??  ?? Ap­peal­ing: Be­dene wants to play in the Davis Cup Fi­nal for Great Bri­tain
Ap­peal­ing: Be­dene wants to play in the Davis Cup Fi­nal for Great Bri­tain
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