Canadians give Rusedski a rough reception

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The Independent Online

reports from Montreal

Greg Rusedski was accorded a traitor's reception when he returned to the Canadian Open in his home town of Montreal yesterday.

On a hot, humid afternoon, a nationalistic crowd let Rusedski know that since he had rejected Canada they would reject him. Born and raised in Quebec province, Rusedski recently switched his allegiance to his mother's native Britain. "It didn't hurt my feelings," said Rusedski, who lost 7-6, 6-3 to the American Michael Joyce in the first round. "I thought I'd get a difficult reaction. I prepared for it and I expected it."

Rusedski was taunted by a derisive crowd, and even before he ventured on court the mere mention of his name by the tournament announcer brought a resounding chorus of boos. Rusedski did not appear to be bothered, and he smiled broadly as he walked on to the court.

Neither a tennis ball, which was thrown at him when he arrived, nor a large banner in French, which translated to "Rusedski is crazy about the Queen," distressed him.

"That doesn't bother me," Rusedski insisted. "The ball missed me, so it's OK."

Although the reception was unfriendly, Rusedski is at least sure of his popularity in Britain. He knows that his recent Davis Cup success has only increased the acceptance he received at Wimbledon.

"It was the best experience I ever had in tennis at Wimbledon," Rusedski said. "It was an experience I'll never forget."

Spectators continued to subject Rusedski to periodic jeering throughout the match, and they eagerly supported his opponent's efforts. In any other match, Joyce would have been just another American who travelled north of the border to play in the Canadian Open. But this time it was as if he was a homegrown Canadian.

"They weren't cheering for me," Joyce said. "They were cheering because he was public enemy No 1. He's a great player and I think one day the people in Canada will respect him for his tennis."

Rusedski insisted that the crowd's reaction did not affect his performance, and he almost seemed to enjoy the experience. "There was such excitement," he said. "How many times do you go to a tennis match and have that kind of excitement."

Rusedski did rifle one serve past Joyce early in the match which equalled his record of 137mph earlier in the year.

But he also made 23 unforced errors, many of them on his less reliable backhand. After taking the first set to a tie-break, Rusedski could not hold his own against Joyce, who produced a series of winning passing shots while Rusedski fumbled many of his opportunities.

In the final set, Rusedski managed to save three match points before he a hit another poor backhand, a volley into the net, to end the match.