Tennis: Grand Slam Cup - Rusedski unleashes biggest serve to quell Kafelnikov
Saturday 27 September 1997
Greg Rusedski has waited for this day since a wrist injury caused him to retire after winning the opening set against Pete Sampras in the final of a tournament in San Jose in February.
The Briton had hoped to complete the most encouraging week of his career, having just defeated Michael Chang and Andre Agassi back-to-back. Instead, he had to bide his time until the wrist healed and he was able to confirm the improvement in his game by reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals and the final of the US Open.
Those results brought him here to the Compaq Grand Slam Cup, where he has emulated Tim Henman, his Davis Cup team-mate, who advanced to the last four at Munich's Olympic Hall last year.
Whatever happens when he faces Sampras over the best of five sets today - the American has won their four previous matches - Rusedski can take pride in his performance yesterday in defeating Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the world No 4 from Russia, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1.
Failing to secure the opening set might have proved a psychological blow for Rusedski had he allowed himself to dwell on the fact that it was the first tie-break he had lost in the last eight he has played.
Having already saved two set points at 4-5 in the set, he must have fancied his chances until double-faulting to trail 2-4 in the shoot-out. Kafelnikov went on to clinch the lead, 7-5, finshing with an ace.
Rusedski had the fortitude to save two break points in the opening game of the second set - the second of them when the umpire overruled an ace which had been called out - and immediately broke Kafelnikov for 2-0. It was then that the Canadian-born Brit underlined the power of his serve by delivering the 143 mph serve on game point to hold for 3-0. The crowd, who had oohed and aahed at his previous big hits, gave out a roar of approval when the speed flashed up at the side of the court.
Having levelled the match after 70 minutes, Rusedski began to make even better use of his return of serve and groundstrokes, provoking errors from Kafelnikov. The Russian double-faulted on game point at 1-1 and then missed a backhand volley to give his opponeent the intiative. Rusedski held for 3-1, and then broke again, crucially, aided by a net cord, the ball trickling over in his favour for deuce. There was no luck about the backhand drive and forehand volley that sealed the game. Kafelnikov, to cap a frustrating night, double-faulted on the second match point.
"I'm very much looking forward to playing Pete, and I'm sure Pete's looking forward to the match as well," Rusedski said. "He likes to give me a little bit of stick now and then. I'm going to have a good match out there. It's going to be really interesting. I have nothing to lose."
Nobody does, really.
Apologies for constantly pushing figures at you like a demented accountant, but they do make interesting reading. Sampras, for example, has made $6.318m (pounds 4.2m) from his six appearances in this event - which is approaching a quarter of his total career prize-money.
By advancing to today's semi-finals with a victory against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 7-6, 6-4, he took his income for the week to $925,000 (including a $500,000 bonus for winning two grand slams, Wimbledon and the Australian Open).
For all the wealth on offer here, Sampras and Bjorkman (pounds 250,000 as a quarter-finalist) will be keener to do well for their nations when Sweden and the United States meet in the Davis Cup final in December.
The most significant part of yesterday's proceedings for Sampras came after the match, when he received the Fred Perry Award as the top performer in the Grand Slam men's singles championships this year.
Sampras was just too good for Bjorkman, his victory atoning for the one defeat on his record in six meetings with the Swede. That was in three sets in the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club in June.
The Swede, having double-faulted to present Sampras with the first set point, at 5-6 in the tie-break, double-faulted on the second set point, at 6-7.
Sampras broke Bjorkman in the third game of the second set, once again courtesy of a double-fault from the Swede on game point. There appeared little prospect of Sampras being caught from that point.
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