Rusedski relieved by victory

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The Independent Online
In the year since, amid fanfares and Union Jack bandanas, he became British, Greg Rusedski has seen his world ranking flag from 35 to 76. Reverting to new-found type some cynics might say. And were it not for the accompanying rise of Tim Henman to the dizzy heights of 61, the big-serving former Canadian might well have found himself under more pressure to perform than he did here yesterday.

Rusedski though was a happy man after his 7-6, 6-3 victory in the first round of the Stella Artois championships over the qualifier Laurence Tieleman. Happy, because after two previous first-round defeats at Queen's - particularly last year to Mark Petchey - he had come through a winner.

Happier still that he was back on grass, the surface best suited to his 137mph serve - the fastest on the ATP Tour.

Queen's Club - despite the presence of Thomas Muster grooving his heavily top-spun ground shots from the baseline on the practice court - is a venue for the speed merchants. Rallies are short, occasionally sweet and it is perhaps no coincidence that the Lawn Tennis Association, whose offices overlook the centre court here, are about to change the title of their monthly publication from Serve and Volley (a three-shot rally) to Ace.

In a game of few deuces, fewer rallies and little excitement, Rusedski fired down 13 of his trademark one-shot wonders. His first serve of the match was a 119mph fault, his second an ace, his final shot a 122mph ace.

In between he sprinkled errors on both wings as he struggled to impose himself on his Belgian-born Italian opponent, ranked 154 in the world and making his first appearance in a Tour event this season.

Indeed, the first set went to a tie-break. A spectator even fainted during it but presumably not through the tension of the moment.

To be fair to the players, it is not easy to switch straight from the slow clay courts of Paris to fast London grass and once Rusedski had broken in the second set his victory was a formality.

"I'm pleased to come out with a win," Rusedski said afterwards. "As I didn't play particularly sharp. It was a bit nerve-racking at first because I'd never won at Queen's, but once I'd got the break in the second set I relaxed much more."

Rusedski might even be able to stay relaxed as he works towards Wimbledon - a year on from the "a star is born" story which was ended in the fourth round by Pete Sampras.

"There's less expectation this year," Rusedski said. "Because there's myself and Tim. There's two of us out there, there's a lot more for the public to watch."

There certainly is. Another Briton had more to celebrate yesterday despite losing. Martin Lee might have been ushered out in the first round by the Australian Scott Draper 6-4, 6-1, but the 18-year-old from Worthing yesterday officially took over as the world's No 1 ranked junior.

Stefan Edberg, for so long No 1 in the grown-up world, and playing for the last time at Queen's, quelled a spirited challenge from another Briton, Danny Sapsford, winning 6-4 6-3.

"I always enjoy playing on grass," said the London-based Swede, who reached the quarter finals of the French Open last week. "I feel I'm hitting the ball pretty well but it takes two or three matches before you feel comfortable on the grass."

Another veteran taking his bow at Queen's, Jeremy Bates, the long-time British No 1, disappointingly lost 6-1, 6-2 to Jared Palmer of the United States in just 52 minutes.

Bates, who won the Wirral event on Sunday, managed only 40 minutes practice before the match and was disappointed not to have been scheduled for today. "I just blinked and I'm out," he said.