Tennis: Rusedski takes a rain-check

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The Independent Online
Fainting line judges and ball boys might be a hazard at the $1m Qatar Mobil Open, where rain and Ramadan have combined to make a strange opening week to the tennis season even curiouser. The singles quarter- finals, featuring Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, were washed out last night. Weather permitting, the quarter-finals will commence at 1.0pm today, with the semi-finals played tonight as scheduled.

Local Muslim linesmen and ball boys will have been fasting for six hours before Greg Rusedski, the No 1 seed, and his French opponent, Fabrice Santoro (No 8), arrive on the Centre Court. This match is due to be followed by Henman, the fifth seed, who plays Petr Korda (No 3). Fasting continues until sunset, around 4.30pm.

It is the first time in the six years of the tournament that the event has coincided with Ramadan, and the decision to play all the matches at night was made for practical reasons as well as in deference to Islamic sensibility.

During Ramadan, Muslims work during the morning and rest in the afternoon. "We have played at night to help the people who work at the tournament, such as the line judges and ball boys," said Ayman Azmy, the tournament director. "They would be very tired working while fasting every day."

The arrangement has not meant a great loss in terms of tennis in the sunshine. Cold winds have made the Gulf a home from home for visiting players from northern Europe.

In Adelaide, Andre Agassi marched into his first semi-final at an ATP Tour event in 11 months as the former world No 1's comeback gathered momentum yesterday.

Agassi recovered from losing the first set to beat the unseeded New Zealander Brett Steven, 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 in 94 minutes in the Australian men's hardcourt championships at Memorial Drive. "There are a few significant points of a comeback where you feel a surge and you feel yourself making a huge step. Today reflected a huge step," Agassi said.

Steven said he was convinced of Agassi's readiness to resurrect his career after a fall in the rankings from No 8 to 122 during 1997. "It shows he's back to play for real because he stayed in there and gutsed it out," Steven said, referring to Agassi's fightback in searing temperatures in Adelaide.

"Andre is as fit as he's been since he was No1 and he'll get better," said Steven, who described his own playing during the first set as the best tennis of his career.

Agassi, a former Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion, needed a wildcard to gain entry to the tournament as he is now ranked 110.