Rusedski falls as Petchey proves his point

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The Independent Online


reports from Queen's Club

He may have been born and raised in Canada, but it did not take Greg Rusedski long to justify his credentials as a true British tennis player. He lost in the first round.

The most positive aspect of Rusedski's debut as the nation's new No 1 at the Stella Artois Championships was the fire he ignited in his British opponent. Mark Petchey had complained about the incomer stealing his birthright. Yesterday, the Essex man stopped whingeing and rose to the challenge.

"He wanted to make a good impression, and I'm glad I didn't let him," Petchey said after winning, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. "I was really pumped up. I wanted to prove a point, not just to everybody here, but to myself. There was so much riding on it. You can't stand up and say something and then fall flat on your face."

David Lloyd, who is due to name his inaugural Davis Cup squad today for the relegation play-off against Monaco at Eastbourne next month, was encouraged by what he saw. "Mark handled himself well," the captain said. "He could have frozen after what he had said, but he raised his game. I've seen him lose a lot of matches from the position he was in today. He played a perfect game at 5-3."

Rusedski possesses the fastest serve in the game (137 mph), but was unable to make it count on the day. This was due to his own inaccuracy, and possibly to the effect of the cold, cloudy conditions on the new, lower-pressure balls.

Petchey, the third-highest Briton in the world rankings (No 114), saved a break point in the second game, broke Rusedski (No 54) for 4-3, and survived a minor crisis in the eighth game to take the opening set.

The way Rusedski struck back in the second set suggested that the match was about to swing his way, but he double-faulted to be broken in the fourth game of the final set, and the determined Petchey kept the initiative. It is worth recounting that Petchey's CV includes victories against Michael Stich, Michael Chang, and a clay-court success against Alberto Berasategui.

The personable Rusedski coped well with the experience. "I'm glad I've got the first match over," he said. "It would have been nice to have started with a win, but I didn't serve up to par, and I must give Mark credit for playing very well."

Both players indicated that the match may have contributed towards a warmer association. "It was very amicable out there," Rusedski said. "I told Mark he played well and wished him the best of luck for the rest of the tournament."

Petchey said: "We always got on fine on the Tour. The whole issue of Greg coming here is away from tennis. I disagreed with it, but now he is British I'm going to get behind him in the Davis Cup. He's going to go from strength to strength, and if I'm going to be No 1 I've got to get better and better. It's a great story for British tennis as a whole if we can build on this and get more players playing."

Both players were also in accord on the issue of the softer, heavier balls. "The balls slowed it down a bit, but that's good for tennis," Rusedksi said. "It's harder on the server, but you get more rallies, and more baseliners doing well at Wimbledon." Petchey said: " has got to look to the future and to the public. If these balls are good for tennis, then the players have got to get on with it."

Tim Henman also made a bright start to the tournament. The Oxford player defeated the 16th seed, Martin Sinner of Germany, 7-5, 6-4. Henman now plays Britain's elder statesman, Jeremy Bates. Danny Sapsford defeated a fellow Britain, Andrew Richardson, 6-2, 6-4, for the right to meet Boris Becker in the second round.

Goran Ivanisevic and Stefan Edberg successfully negotiated their opening matches. Ivanisevic, the third seed, defeated the South African Marcos Ondruska, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, and Edberg, seeded No 7, accounted for Arnaud Boetsch, of France, 7-5, 6-3.

n The following British players have received wild cards for Wimbledon: Gary Henderson, Henman, Miles Maclagan, Ross Matheson, Sapsford, Chris Wilkinson, Karen Cross, Jo Durie, Megan Miller, Shirli-Ann Siddall, and Clare Wood.