Adopted son is eclipsed

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The Independent Online
It took a tie-break of epic proportions to deny Britain's Greg Rusedski a place in today's Stella Artois men's singles final as he lost out by 20 points to 18 to Goran Ivanisevic, after the two men had slugged it out with three violent but perfunctory sets of big-serving tennis.

Nothing in these sets, which lasted an average of 16 minutes each as the two men traded aces at will, could have prepared us for the raw drama of the tie-break, which itself lasted longer than any of the sets they played.

The tennis had been of such crashing vulgarity that it had begun to resemble one of those fights between Reeves and Mortimer in which they repeatedly hit each other over the head with frying pans.

This is not to indict Rusedski, who struggled gamely to try and bring some subtlety and style to the tennis. But Ivanisevic is a brutally simple player, using his clubbing serve to intimidate his opponents and to deny them room to breathe. The irony is that he can also play quite beautifully under severe pressure, as he showed in the tie-break when he seemed to be utterly nerveless.

"When it got to 11-11, I started to have fun," the Croatian said afterwards. "I also played a 38 point tie-break once in the US Open a few years ago - against Daniel Nestor - so maybe I am used to it more than Greg."

Rusedski, in contrast, was a picture of desolation as the anti-climax of a 6-4 4-6 6-7 defeat in such a cruel manner hung over him like a mist. "I'm very disappointed to lose, as I had so many chances to win the match. There was one moment when I clipped a back-hand and it just caught the net by about a quarter of an inch," Rusedski lamented as he recalled the six match points which he had failed to fulfil in the tie-break.

Such a fine margin seemed almost inevitable once the two men could not be separated over the three sets. Rusedski had taken the first 6-4, as he broke Ivanisevic in the 10th game. The Croatian then broke Rusedski in the ninth game of the second set as the Briton made two crucial errors on volleys and, though Rusedski had a point to get back to even, Ivanisevic typically produced an ace to close out the second set.

In the third set, they simply traded service games, with Rusedski nearly blowing it in the ninth as he became distracted by some noisy Croatians in the crowd, but he bravely saved the two break points against him. Ivanisevic held easily to get to 6-6, and usher in the tennis equivalent of the shoot- out.

Rusedski seemed to have the early edge and, after he had returned the Croatian's serve right to his feet to take a 6-5 lead, he had match point and two serves to achieve it. But then came the fatal approach shot, followed by a rasping return from the Croatian. From then on, it was just a question of who made the crucial mistake. After levelling with an ace at 18-18, Rusedski fluffed another shot and Ivanisevic thundered down one last ace to seal the tie.

Rusedski will, nevertheless, take more than mere consolation from his defiant performance. "Maybe it's a blessing in disguise. It will spur me on to do even better - and I don't just want to do well at Wimbledon, I want to win it."

In the earlier semi-final, which was actually a better, if less dramatic, match, the 20-year-old Australian, Mark Philippoussis, claimed the other place in the final by coming from a set down to defeat the stylish Swede, Jonas Bjorkman 2-6 7-6 6-2.

Philippoussis is the biggest server on the circuit, clocking up multiple aces at speeds as high as 142mph. But, for a while, Bjorkman's splendid service returns completely bemused him and he lost seven games on the trot to be a set and two games down.

But as he upped his pace and expanded the range of his shots, Philippoussis finally overpowered the smaller player, breaking the Swede twice to close the third set easily.

Today's final will therefore feature probably the two biggest servers in the game. "It will not be the greatest final," Ivanisevic predicted with a knowing grin, "just another game of missiles."