Rusedski moves to new plane

A superb fortnight in New York for Britain's No 1
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The Independent Online
Greg Rusedski travelled by Concorde from the final of the United States Open yesterday to participate in the Samsung Open at the West Hants Club, Bournemouth. Anything slower would have been akin to returning the fastest server in the world on the Spirit of St Louis.

Rusedski's spirits were as high as could be expected considering how much he had accomplished without laying his hands on the coveted prize. "It would be nice to have a nice welcome, but I would have been happier if I was bringing the cup home," he said.

London has been home to Rusedski, who was born and raised in Canada, since he delivered his British passport to the Lawn Tennis Association in 1995. He seems to become more British by the minute, if not in terms of his tennis, which is far too potent to be typical.

The unseeded Rusedski, frequently serving at above 140 mph, hit one delivery timed at 143 mph - the fastest recorded on the professional tour - against Pat Rafter during the concluding set of Sunday's final. Not even that discouraged the athletic Australian No 13 seed.

"Pretty bloody big," Rafter said. "I'm not trying to compete with him with that. My arm would fall off. I thought: `Oh, no, he's got one record, he's going to take another one'. I tried not to let the second one happen." Rafter succeeded, maintaining his impressive consistency to prevail, 6- 3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

Mighty serves are only part of Rusedski's repertoire nowadays, a point underlined throughout the tournament. Asked about the 143 mph during his interview, he said: "I'm sure that will be broken as well. I'd rather come here and had no record and said I won the match.''

Rusedski has worked hard on his groundstrokes since hiring the American Brian Teacher as his coach 16 months ago. While Rusedski does not have the fluid style of Rafter's attacking game, he shows signs of becoming a more complete player than previously imagined.

As Teacher said: "He's improving not only in front of my eyes but in front of everybody else's eyes, too. That's a beautiful thing as far as a coach is concerned.''

Rusedski, who had not won a match on his three previous visits to the US Open, became Britain's first representative in the men's singles final since Fred Perry defeated Don Budge in 1936.

"I didn't feel the weight of history," Rusedski said. "I just went out there and enjoyed myself. I think Pat did the same thing. It was a tremendous feeling to play in the US Open and to be in a Grand Slam final. But I'd rather be walking on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the final. That's always been my dream. Maybe I'll do that.''

For the moment, however, he will endeavour to combat any sense of anti- climax while trying to settle his feet on the slow clay courts of Bournemouth. "I'm going to try my best out there," he said. "I made an obligation to play the tournament. Hopefully the British public will get behind me. They can get me through the first round.''

Rafter, having rocketed the stock of Australian tennis, will take a few days off before preparing for the Davis Cup semi-final against the United States in Washington later in the month.

A decade ago, when Rafter was 14, he watched on television as Pat Cash clamboured up to the players' guest box after winning the Wimbledon title. He imagined doing something similar himself one day, and could not resist scaling the perimeter wall in the Arthur Ashe Stadium "Yeah, Cashy did it. I thought it was pretty cool," Rafter said.

Only once before had Rafter had cause to celebrate a victory, after winning on grass in Manchester in 1994. He had suffered defeat in five previous finals this year.

Injuries have contributed to Rafter's slow germination as a player of the highest quality, and problems with a wrist last year severely damaged his morale. He can trace his path to Sunday's title back to Australia's first round Davis Cup tie against France, the holders, in February.

Trailing by two sets to Cedric Pioline, Rafter made a remarkable recovery and turned the tie in Australia's favour. The captain, John Newcombe, recalls motivating Rafter during changeovers by telling him he was waging a "war of attrition''.

Rafter thrilled everybody with his gutsy performance. "It was only afterwards that he asked me what attrition was," Newcombe said.

More recently, after securing victory against the Czech Republic in two days, the Aussies indulged in a little celebrating on the Saturday night. Next day, Rafter lost a dead rubber in the reverse singles and publicly admitted that he had not sobered up until the third set.

"Tonight I'll have a drink of water and go to bed," he said with a smile on Sunday after becoming the first Australian to win the United States title since Newcombe in 1973, demonstrating that he has a lot in common with the great Aussie players, on the court and off.

In spite of Pete Sampras's elimination in the fourth round, the tournament was a triumph for art of serve and volley, which is believed to be a dying art. "Well," Rusedski commented, "I don't mind if it goes extinct and me and Pat do it. That would be fine.

"I think maybe younger kids growing up will be more aggressive. If you've got a good serve and you can get to the net, you can get a lot of free points. You need an all-round game today. That's why Pat has taken such a jump.''

A good deal of development is taking shape in the women's game, currently dominated by the brilliant 16-year-old Martina Hingis.

Few players have been blessed with the range of strokes, positional sense, poise and early maturity of Hingis's game which was far too advanced for Venus Williams to penetrate with her raw attacking power in Sunday's final.

Williams, three months older than Hingis, has time to learn from the defeat in the final of her debut at the US Open, 6-0, 6-4. If she does, there could be some exciting times ahead.

US Open final statistics

Patrick Rafter bt Greg Rusedski 6-3, 6-2 4-6, 7-5.

Rafter v Rusedski

Seeding: 13, Unseeded.

First serve percentage: 63 per cent, 60.

Aces: 7, 9.

Double faults: 6, 4.

Total Winners: 49, 31.

Unforced errors 23, 26.

Break point conversions: 6 of 17, 3 of 9.

Net approaches: won 68 of 95, 54 of 100.

Total points won: 127, 106.

Elapsed time: 2hr 26min.

Serves over 140mph this year

RUSEDSKI

(Date, Venue, Opponent, Speed in mph)

Aug 15: New Haven, Richard Krajicek, 140.

Aug 30: Flushing Meadow, Jens Knippschild, 141.

Aug 30: Flushing Meadow, Jens Knippschild, 141.

Sep 1: Flushing Meadow, Daniel Vacek, 140.

Sep 3: Flushing Meadow, Richard Krajicek, 142.

Sep 6: Flushing Meadow, Jonas Bjorkman, *141.

Sep 6: Flushing Meadow, Jonas Bjorkman, 142.

Sep 6: Flushing Meadow, Jonas Bjorkman, 140.

Sep 7: Flushing Meadow, Pat Rafter, 143.

MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS (Aus)

March 7: Scottsdale, Byron Black, 142.

March 20: Key Biscayne, Wayne Ferreira, 141.

March 20: Key Biscayne, Wayne Ferreira, 140.

May 19: Dusseldorf, Pete Sampras, 140.4.

May 25: Dusseldorf, Albert Costa, 142.3.

Aug 25: Flushing Meadow, Karim Alami, 140.

JULIAN ALONSO (Spain)

Aug 22: Long Island, Goran Ivanisevic, 140. *Fastest second serve ever recorded.

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