Centre Court hails rampant Rusedski

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The Independent Online

Tennis Correspondent

Graft the maple leaf on to the rose. Our Canadian, Greg Rusedski, is the darling of the Centre Court, truly Greg Briton - at least for the moment. Twice in the past four years we were warned by a prophetic Centre Court scoreboard to Forget Bates. Yesterday, the British import refuted the prescience of Forget Rusedski.

Firing 28 aces and displaying tremendous determination, the 21-year-old Rusedski broke the Frenchman's curse on British hopes and strode into the third round, tossing his racket into an adoring crowd on the way.

Guy Forget, it will be remembered, denied Pete Sampras so much as a break point in the final of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club little more than a fortnight ago. Although losing, 7-6, 7-6, the effort earned him promotion to No 16 seed for Wimbledon.

Rusedski marked his British debut at Queen's and was defeated in the first round by Mark Petchey, of Essex. Anxious not to disappoint on his first appearance on the world's most famous Centre Court yesterday, Rusedski recovered after losing the first five games and triumphed, 1-6, 7-6, 7- 6, 7-5, after two hours and 23 minutes.

He won the second set tie-break from 2-5 down, and home support became so vociferous that in the seventh game of the third set Forget shouted "Allez, Guy!" The Frenchman was not always so good-natured, complaining about one or two line calls and giving looks of resignation when net cords went Rusedski's way. One, from a Rusedski backhand, died on Forget's side of the net to give the new Brit a 5-3 lead en route to taking the second shoot-out, 7-4.

Rusedski required two match points to clinch the battle of the big-serving left-handers. Forget saved the first with a service winner, but steered a forehand volley over the baseline on the second.

With a smile as wide as the Atlantic, Rusedski said: "I've always dreamt of winning a match on Centre Court and it was the public that did it for me. I had 13,000 people supporting me today. You can't get a better feeling than that."

Forget, understandably, was less than ecstatic. "It was a very hard match in terms of returning his serve," he said, "and I gave him two or three points. That's why I lost and he won. God was on his side today, and in a way he deserved to win."

Rusedski is one match away from playing Sampras, and the next hurdle is Olivier Delaitre, although Rusedski is enjoying a diet of French cuisine, having accounted for Stephane Simian in the opening round.

Ironically, Rusedski is joined in the third round by his most bitter critic, Chris Wilkinson. Anger has done wonders for Wilkinson's game since he became a self-imposed exile in his own land. Fuelled by resentment about Rusedski's arrival as the nation's No 1, he advanced to the third round for the third consecutive year.

Yesterday, Miles Maclagan, a fellow Brit, was the victim as Wilkinson continued to convert his ire into winning shots. It must be said, however, that the flaws in Maclagan's grass-court game eased Wilkinson's progress, 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 in only 76 minutes.

Maclagan, who made his debut in the 5-0 whitewash by the Slovak Republic in April, is among the group of 10 from which David Lloyd is due to select his inaugural team for the forthcoming relegation play-off against Monaco. Wilkinson, most emphatically, is not.

Asked if it had been embarrassing to watch Wilkinson's performance, Lloyd said: "It's not embarrassing to me, but I hope it's embarrassing for him. If he wants to come to talk to me I will listen, but I don't think he will. I would rather he sat down with Greg and sorted it out. They could have a pint or a punch-up, and I will be the umpire."

Emphasising that he still considers Wilkinson to be a "really nice chap", Lloyd said he remained baffled how anyone could say they would not play for their country.

Wilkinson was having none of it: "What has been said has been said. I'm not changing my mind. I don't want to talk about Greg Rusedski any more." He did agree, however, that the controversy had galvanised his determination. "Maybe that's what what I was lacking. I was in an angry mood and I wanted to be focused," he said. In the third round, Wilkinson meets the American Michael Joyce, who eliminated the 10th seed, Marc Rosset, in the first round.

Before his unfortunate disqualification in the doubles yesterday evening, Tim Henman gave an encouraging performance despite losing to Sampras on Court One.

The 20-year-old from Oxford is at the stage of his development where Rusedski's arrival is more of a shield than an imposition. As the score - 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 - indicated, Henman's confidence grew as the match progressed. Sampras, who conceded only three points on serve in the opening set and two in the second, was broken at the start of the third. Henman double- faulted on game point when serving for a 2-0 lead, and Sampras saved two break points at 5-5. In the tie-break, Henman recovered from 1-3 to 3- 3, but directed a smash over the baseline on match point to lose the shoot- out 7-3 after nearly two hours.

Sampras said of Henman: "He does everything well, but he needs a weapon or two. He's got a good head on his shoulders, and time will tell if he has what it takes to be a great player. But he needs those weapons."


British No 1 Greg Rusedski beats No 16 seed

Guy Forget in four sets

Britons Jeremy Bates and Tim Henman disqualified after ball struck in anger accidentally hits ball girl

Two women's seeds go out, Mary Pierce the

No 5, and Amy Frazier the No 12