Tennis: Rusedski rolls over Rybalko

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BY coincidence, the Newcastle Arena is painted in the Wimbledon colours, purple and green, a timely reminder of David Lloyd's ambition to captain future David Cup triumphs against the best in the world on the All England Club's lawns.

Greg Rusedski responded to the symbolism with an emphatic win in the opening rubber of Britain's Davis Cup tie against Ukraine yesterday, a spur towards a place in the qualifying round for the World Group next September. Lloyd had so little to do in terms of motivation that, given a mobile phone, he would probably have closed a couple of business deals from his chair in the court.

Rusedski wore down Andrei Rybalko, the Ukraine No 2, with the power of his serve, conceding only 12 points in the process, four of those with double-faults. He secured the victory, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, after 96 minutes, nine and a half of which were expended on the opening game.

Having dropped 11 games against Rybalko when defeating him in three sets in the deciding rubber on a slow clay court in Kiev last July, the British No 1 appeared slightly nervous at the start yesterday, as if conscious that he was expected to blow away an opponent ranked 525 in the world on the pacy carpet.

As Rusedski tried to whittle away at his opponent's confidence, Rybalko saved five break points and fought through seven deuces, succeeding in holding on his third game point.

"I think he knew he was in for some long games on his serve," Rusedski said, countering suggestions that he was edgy. "I felt relaxed and loose, and I thought I dealt with the job pretty well. I didn't really think about it [the difference in rankings]. I always treat my opponents with respect, whether I'm playing Sampras or Andrei Rybalko, ranked 525.''

Rybalko endeavoured to serve and volley whenever possible, but Rusedski's serve was rarely troubled. He was credited with 20 aces and only once was taken to deuce, in the eighth game of the first set.

In the second set, which was completed in 23 minutes, Rusedski conceded only one point on serve, and after breaking for 2-1 in the third set he dictated the points with such assurance that he was able to be generous when the opportunity presented itself with Rybalko serving at 2-4, 30- 40.

Rusedski, who already had had two break points for 5-2, passed Rybalko with a forehand return, but immediately supported his opponent's claim that his serve had touched the net, indicating to the umpire that the point should be replayed. Rybalko won the game, delaying the inevitable, Rusedski delivering an ace down the centre on the concluding point.

"I don't have to say much with Greg playing like that," Lloyd said. "I just keep my mouth shut and let him get on with it." Rusedski smiled. "I like it when he sits there quietly," he said. "It's a good sign. It means we're doing well."

In other ties yesterday, Byron Black blunted Patrick Rafter's powerful serve to put Zimbabwe level with Australia after the opening two singles rubbers of their World Group first round in Mildura.

Black, ranked 81st in the world, fought back from losing the opening set to surprise the US Open champion, who has had a virus, 3-6, 6-3, 6- 2, 7-6 in 2 hours 26 minutes.

His victory kept Zimbabwe in the tie after his younger brother Wayne lost a 3hr 18min struggle to Jason Stoltenberg 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 in the opening singles.

Italy held a 1-0 lead over India in their first-round tie in Genoa as rain curbed Mahesh Bhupathi's efforts of levelling the score. India's No 1 player was leading Davis Cup debutant Davide Sanguinetti 6-2, 6-2, 2-3 when the day's play ended prematurely in this Italian port city. Play should continue today.

Andrea Gaudenzi gave Italy the lead, overcoming a third-set lapse on his way to a 6-0, 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 victory against Prahland Srinath, who was also making his Davis Cup debut.