Roaring Rusedski stays in with a shout
Sunday 29 June 1997
When play restarted on Centre and No 1 Courts just after midday, a total of 64 hours had elapsed since the last ball had been hit. By nightfall, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, the former with some comfort, the latter in considerable discomfort, had continued the British renaissance and Goran Ivanisevic had provided a forthright response to those who say that grass-court tennis is becoming a one-stroke game.
The No 2 seed singed the grass on Court Three with a record 46 aces, but still lost to the Swede Magnus Norman in five sets. Norman produced a mere 25 in return and survived a bout of sickness to reach the third round on his Wimbledon debut. Norman's second stroke proved deadlier than the Croat's first.
For two sets, Rusedski found almost everything was against him. His back, a source of pain throughout recent months, needed treatment in the morning, his temper was on the shortest of fuses and any resemblance to the bouncy, cocky character who had so impressively disposed of Mark Philippoussis in the first round had vanished during the three days of rain. Instead of Grinning Greg, there was an alter ego whose tetchy behaviour must have struck a chord with the man in the baseball hat sitting in the stands. "Yeah, I saw him," Rusedski said after his 4-6 6-7 6-4 6-3 11-9 victory over Jonathan Stark. "But he only saw me play for the first two sets, so he must have thought I couldn't play." John McEnroe should have stayed to sample the recovery, the first time in his career Rusedski has turned a two-set deficit into ultimate, crashing victory.
"I was trying to make some history on No 1 Court," Rusedski said. "But a victory like that can only give me confidence. No matter how big a hole I dig for myself, I can get myself out of it." Two running forehands which set up a break back in the fifth set when Stark was serving for the match were shots of outrageous courage and perfect execution which would have graced the old No 1 Court, let alone the pristine new one. But then that was Rusedski's afternoon, brilliant in parts, lamentable in others and characterised throughout by his major weapon. In three hours and 36 minutes of topsy-turvy tennis, Rusedski and Stark traded aces, 36 apiece, but the British left-hander added 23 double-faults to his tally, the most notable prompted by an underarm second serve in the seventh game of the final set.
"I just wanted to get relaxed," Rusedski explained. "But it didn't really work." Not much worked for the first two sets as the talented but erratic American, ranked 58, exploited Rusedski's ill humour. Rusedski was given a time violation by umpire Steve Ullrich, an unexpected indignity which fuelled a stream of chuntering and angst from the normally happy-go-lucky left-hander. "Sometimes the calls go against you, but it was good to get the emotions going. It spurred me on." Along with an increasingly hysterical crowd, who cheered every home point to the echo.
The critical shift of power came early in the third set when Rusedski saw his first sign of daylight by breaking the American for the first time on his first break point. Another single break in the fourth set proved decisive and, after nearly two hours, Rusedski drew level. Stark, though, held his suspect nerve, a break to 5-3 taking him to the threshold of victory. But Rusedski saved his best to last, breaking back and finally exploiting a double-fault and a misplaced volley to pull off an unlikely comeback. Whether his suspect back can recover in time for his third round against Andrew Richardson, another big-serving British left-hander, is more doubtful.
Henman's straight sets win over Jerome Golmard could boast none of that drama. The tall Frenchman was once a carpenter and his game, all chopping and sawing, betrayed his apprenticeship. Henman's delight in his display, particularly his service, suggests that he is trying to kid himself into some decent form. Had Golmard exploited a double-fault and a tentative volley in the tie-break and missed another chance to pass in the first game of the second set, the No 14 seed could have found himself a set and a break down. But the Frenchman is a novice on grass and, once ahead, Henman was never going to be caught.
"That was a good one under your belt," he said. "It's the best I've served for quite a long time." Up to a point. Like his first round, he served well when he needed to, which is the sign of a champion, but Paul Haarhuis, one of the shrewder players on the circuit and a sharp returner, will be a much tougher test.
Richard Krajicek, the defending champion, recovered from two sets to one down to beat Andrei Pavel, while Boris Becker had a second straight- sets win of the week, this time over Thomas Johansson. On Centre Court, the umpire prefaced yesterday's play with a reminder about mobile phones and luggage, but you half expected him to say: "And this, to jog your memories, ladies and gentlemen, is tennis." It had been that long a wait.
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