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Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 15:50 UK

GB's trip into the unknown

Ricardus Berankis
Junior US Open winner in 2007, Ricardus Berankis is Lithuania's big hope

By Oliver Brett

According to the official Davis Cup rankings, Great Britain are the 36th best nation in men's tennis and Lithuania are 62nd.

But a more telling comparison is this: the Lithuanian Tennis Union's (LTU) annual budget is just £100,000, while the Lawn Tennis Association spends a comparatively monstrous £43m every year.

When the two nations come up against each other in the first round of the Davis Cup's Europe/Africa Group Two in 2010, it should - on paper - be a perfect example of a minnow being swallowed by a shark of the tennis world.

But Liutauras Radzevicius, the president of the LTU, does not see it that way at all and he has genuine hopes that his country can cause an upset at the brand new Vitas Gerulaitis Memorial Tennis Centre in Vilnius next March.

"Of course it will be an amazing experience for us and a very interesting match - especially if Andy Murray is playing," Radzevicius told BBC Sport.

Vitas Gerulaitis
Lithuania's national tennis centre is named after Vitas Gerulaitis

"In that case our best player Ricardus Berankis [world ranking 432] will definitely play. We will play indoors in our capital Vilnius, and though the main court normally has a capacity of 1,500 we can have special temporary seating for this match."

Gerulaitis, a star of the late 1970s, was born in Brooklyn to Lithuanian immigrants and died tragically young at 40 in 1994.

He is claimed by the Baltic nation as one of theirs, however, and won his only Grand Slam in 1977 at the Australian Open - when he beat Britain's current Davis Cup captain John Lloyd in the final.

Radzevicius feels Lloyd could finish second best again next spring, despite having potentially seven players to choose from with a better ranking than 19-year-old Berankis.

"Lithuania can be an unpredictable team," he said.

"In March this year we had our best Davis Cup result, winning 3-2 against Georgia who had one world-class player, Irakli Labadze. And it was our 17-year-old, Dovydas Sakinis, who had never won a professional match before, who beat him in the deciding match."

Radzevicius excitedly touts Berankis as a "world champion", before adding that it came as a junior, when he won the US Open in 2007.

"He is quite a strong player but now is in a transformation period, it's his first year as a professional on the ATP tour and he was also injured in the summer.

"Roger Federer is a personal friend of his. Roger secured invitations for him to play in six tournaments, he has trained with him and plays in a similar style to him."

Jonathan Overend

Tennis is a fast-growing sport in Lithuania, with 40 clubs and 200 professionals in all - not bad for a country of 3.6m inhabitants.

"It is the number three sport in Lithuania," said Radzevicius.

"First of all it is basketball, we are very famous and very strong in basketball - we have been champions of Europe in the past and won three Olympic bronze medals in a row from 1992.

"Our number two sport is football, but tennis is next. It's the sport that businessmen play now when they have some free time. In the past they went bowling."

Although the government was a key contributor to the new national tennis centre, which cost nearly £20m, it does not support the LTU in any significant way.

"Before the economic crisis there was some support for us from the government but there's not so much now," said Radzevicius.

"Our annual budget would probably fund less than one club in Britain and we make do with what we can from local and private investors."

It is as much a sign of how far Lithuania has come, as how far Britain has fallen, that the two nations should face each other on a tennis court now.

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see also
GB handed Lithuania Davis Cup tie
23 Sep 09 |  Tennis
Lithuania clinch European title
14 Sep 03 |  Other sport...

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