Rusedski pledges allegiance to new country

A burden of expectation now rests with Britain's new No 1 tennis player. John Roberts met him at Queen's Club
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The Independent Online
Those sceptical of the Canadian-born Greg Rusedski's commitment to Britain may be interested to know that the nation's new No 1 tennis player incorporated a till death us do part declaration in his maiden speech yesterday. The actual words were: "Even when I'm done with playing, at 30, 32 or so, this is going to be the place where I live until the day I die".

Rusedski is based at the home of his English girlfriend, Lucy Connors, in Purley, Surrey. His mother, formerly Helen Sokoyro, was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire and, in common with his father, Tom, she is of mixed eastern European extraction. Their son has shown a lot of bottle in transferring his allegiance, even though he could be described as more Labatt lager than Tetley bitter.

David Lloyd, who begins his Davis Cup captaincy with the big-serving world No 47 in his ranks, will be particularly reassured by Rusedski's apparent eagerness to foster a good relationship with his team-mates, some of whom regard him as a usurper, and to help with the various junior development programmes.

The 21-year-old left-hander from Montreal said at Queen's Club, London, that he could understand the resentment expressed by Mark Petchey and Chris Wilkinson - "if I was in a similar situation I would probably feel the same way" - but hopes their differences can be resolved when they get together as Lloyd's group of Davis Cup contenders, "or socially".

Ian Peacock, the Lawn Tennis Association's executive director, also sympathised with the disappointment voiced by Petchey and Wilkinson, but described it as "knee-jerk" and emphasised the general benefits to be gained if Rusedski is successful.

"We have a responsibility to the people who follow tennis in Britain, and they have been on a pretty lean diet," Peacock said. "When Greg said he wanted to play for Britain, and was eligible to do so, it would have been silly for us to have said no.''

Conscious that he is expected to raise the level of interest in the most dormant of the nation's sports, Rusedski said: "Hopefully, a boy out there of seven or 10 will pick up a racket and one day win Wimbledon for Britain.''

Some will take it for granted that he has been imported to do that very job himself, which underlines the difficulty he faces in terms of public expectation. "I think it's very important that you take everything in your stride," he said. "You're not going to play fantastic tennis every day. You've got to look at everything realistically. Whatever you do one week, there is always the next week to come.''

The philosophy was reinforced, Rusedski said, after his ranking toppled last year from 41 to 120 after he had allowed himself to become preoccupied with "the onslaught of the press" and what others expected from him.

"My goal is to get to the last eight of every tournament I play, and that will be no different at Wimbledon," he said. "To me the epitome of sport is to play on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. It was a childhood dream. I've walked over and looked at the Centre Court, and I was very disappointed my match with Stefan Edberg wasn't played there two years ago. That was on Court Two, and I played on Court One in the juniors.''

He is looking forward to playing in front of British crowds. "I'm hoping for a very positive reaction from them. I hope they will come out and support me, because it can mean an extra two or three points in a match, and, as we know, one point can change a match completely."

The lingering affects of tonsillitis may prevent Rusedski from making his first appearance for Britain at the French Open, which starts on Monday. Should that be the case, he may go straight into the grass-court season at Beckenham before competing at Queen's and Nottingham in preparation for Wimbledon. That is when his life really will start anew.