Tennis: Rusedski overcomes echo

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WHILE THE world's top six players performed on the Centre Court, one after the other, at the $2.45m (pounds 1.53m) Eurocard Open yesterday, Greg Rusedski edged fretfully into the third round on Court No 1, the equivalent of an empty house.

Every squeak of a tennis shoe could be heard, every word exchanged - on the court and off it - along with eerie sounds from the air-conditioning, as if mice were riding motorcycles. None of this was drowned by crowd noises, 56 being the highest number of spectators, dipping to 33 - which was hardly surprising with the semi-retired Boris Becker beating Carlos Moya, the No 4 seed, in the main arena.

Rusedski was not inhibited by the lack of big-time atmosphere when defeating Australia's Jason Stoltenberg, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 - "you have to be professional and be able to lift your game, no matter what" - and there was little danger of Rusedski being distracted by isolated sounds, because a head cold made him hard of hearing.

That may have been responsible for an incident which caused Rusedski to lose his temper - and the second set - after Stoltenberg had saved five match points. Rusedski was furious after a double-fault was given on the first of the second set tie-break, believing his first serve had been called a let. "I said 'fault'," the umpire, Rudi Berger, assured him. "I heard 'let'," Rusedski protested. "It's unbelievable that you should overrule that."

After the match, Berger said: "Rusedski's serve was long, but the line judge said nothing. I said 'fault'. Greg said he heard 'let', but he also told me that he was taking medication for a cold and could not hear very well."

Stoltenberg, who went on to win the tie-break, 7-2, was surprised how long Rusedski's concentration was affected. "Greg is normally a pretty good competitor - he was today - but I rarely see him hang his head and mope around like that," he said.

Most of the dramatic moments stemmed from the British No 2's difficulty in finishing the good work he started. He was broken when serving for the opening set at 5-4, and then lost a mini-break when serving at 6-5 in the first set tie-break. Rusedski salvaged the situation with a solid service return on the next point.

Leading 3-1 in the second set, Rusedski found fault with the centre tape on the net. Berger inspected it, and said it had to be twisted to hold it in place. "I agreed it would be better with a screw in the top, but it wasn't a problem," the umpire added.

Rusedski advanced to 5-3 but was then frustrated by Stoltenberg's resilience in saving four match points in the ninth game and a fifth with the Australian serving at 5-4. By the 10th game, Stoltenberg had become so disappointed with his own game that he twice shouted "boring!", first after missing a forehand at 30-15 and again after double-faulting for 30-40.

"Yes, it was getting boring," the Australian said, "because I have been making the same mistakes in matches. It was an important stage of the match, and I just lost intensity for a couple of minutes, and that has been a problem this year. Luckily today I got myself out of it, but in other matches I haven't."

Stoltenberg's revival might have lasted as far as the third round had Rusedski not delivered a smash to save a break point in the second game of the final set. The Australian delayed Rusedski by saving two break points at 4-4, and was given hope in the tie-break when Rusedski double- faulted to 3-3. Rusedski regained the initiative with a backhand drive for 5-4 and converted his sixth match point when Stoltenberg hit a return over the baseline after two hours and 27 minutes.

"I managed to get my game a little bit together in the middle of the third set," a relieved Rusedski said. "I can't complain. I could have easily lost, but fortunately things turned all right. I guess sometimes you get a little cross out there. It's only normal, because you want to do your best."

Tim Henman, the British No 1, will try to push on towards the ATP Tour Championship in Hanover today when he plays the American Jan-Michael Gambill in the third round. Gambill, who eliminated Alex Corretja, the No 7 seed, yesterday, defeated Henman in three sets in Tokyo in April.

Petr Korda, the defending champion here and one of Henman's rivals for a place in the championship, was defeated in the second round by Sweden's Thomas Johansson, 6-2, 6-4. Becker, in defeating Moya, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, did not have to save a single break point, and broke his opponent in the opening games of the second and third sets. He now faces Goran Ivanisevic in the next round.