Rusedski poised to make big jump

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The Independent Online
British tennis reporters used to experience little difficulty calculating the movement of home players in the world rankings. It was chiefly a case of subtraction. Nowadays, Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman have projected us into the realm of higher mathematics, if not the X-Files.

Rusedski is on the brink of becoming the first British man to crack the top 10 since the ATP rankings computer bleeped its first print-out in 1972. Indeed, for a few moments here yesterday Rusedski thought he had already made it.

By advancing to the quarter-finals of the Samsung Open with a stamina- sapping win against Australia's Richard Fromberg, 7-6, 7-6, Rusedski successfully defended his ranking points from the same week last year.

He was led to believe that the current No 10, Alex Corretja, of Spain, was about to lose his points from last year's Marbella tournament. However, the Marbella date was brought forward a week this year, so Corretja's points stay in the bank until Monday week.

For Rusedski to be certain of reaching his target next Monday, he must advance to Sunday's final here on the slow clay courts in Bournemouth. Another Spaniard, Carlos Moya, the world No 5, might have something to say about that should both he and Rusedski advance to tomorrow's semi- finals.

One day at a time. Rusedski must first overcome Lucas Arnold and Moya dispose of Davide Scale, an Italian qualifier. Although the name Arnold sounds more Yorkshire than Rusedski, he hails from Buenos Aires and is ranked No 134 in the world.

Arnold, in common with the Spanish contingent, is more comfortable on clay than the faster surfaces which suit Rusedski. "His brother, Patricio, once reached No 1 as a junior," Rusedski recalled. "Lucas must be playing pretty well to have beaten [Marc] Goellner and [Johan] Van Herck this week, and he's got nothing to lose tomorrow.''

A bigger threat to Rusedski's progress is likely to be the state of his fitness. He spent two weeks exerting himself on the concrete courts of New York in advancing to the final of the United States Open last Sunday before returning to London by Concorde and continuing to play on the clay of the West Hants Club.

There were clear signs - and sounds - of weariness during the second set of yesterday's match against Fromberg, a 27-year-old from Tasmania, ranked No 89, who has built a reputation for his patient play on clay. Rusedski grunted and groaned his way through lengthy rallies.

"If it would have gone three sets, I don't know if I'd have won that match today," he said. "I think I'm more tired than I was against [Cedric] Pioline at Wimbledon. I think I learned from that match. Mentally you can keep your body going by telling yourself, 'I can do it!'''

It helps, of course, if you have a mighty serve with which to disabuse your opponent, particularly when it comes to a tie-break. Rusedski, who won three consecutive shoot-outs during the US Open, was too powerful for Fromberg in yesterday's duels.

He won the first tie-break, 7-2, having looked the better player for most of the set. The second shoot-out was a salvage operation after Rusedski had been unable to convert either of two match points he created when serving at 5-4.

It would have been a pity if fatigue had beaten Rusedski after he had produced some of his most impressive groundstrokes of the season, particularly on the backhand, in breaking Fromberg from 40-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the second set.

Although broken back for 5-5, he managed to find the willpower to overcome his tiredness when it came to the tie-break, which he won, 7-3, to complete his victory after an hour and 40 minutes.

"I'm just going out there and trying to do my best," he said. "I want to be in the top 10, and I'd like to do it here in Bournemouth."

TODAY'S QUARTER-FINAL LINE-UP: G Rusedski (GB) v L Arnold (Arg), C Moya (Sp) v D Scala (It), C Van Garsse (Bel) v F Mantilla (Sp), M Ondruska (SA) v J Diaz (Sp).