Rusedski returns to form as Smith bows out

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GREG RUSEDSKI evidently did not relish spending Friday at No 13 and set about raising his world ranking back towards the top 10 on the second day of the Lipton Championships here. The British No 2 advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Adrian Voinea, of Romania, and now plays either the South African Wayne Ferreira or Germany's Hendrik Dreekmann.

Britain's interest in the women's singles evaporated when Sam Smith, the nation's only representative in the main draw, was defeated in the first round by Germany's Andrea Glass, 4-6, 6-4,6-4. Smith, ranked No 59, five places above Glass, led 2-0 in the final set and lost the next five games.

Voinea, ranked No 77, had not experienced the might of Rusedski's serve before and may have thought he was on to a good thing when he managed to pass his opponent three times when breaking in the opening game. The Romanian then beckoned Rusedski into the contest by double-faulting twice when leading 4-3. It was then anybody's set, Rusedski saving two break points at 4-4, before cracking Voinea in the next game. Rusedski netted a backhand drive on a break point for 3-1 in the second set, and double- faulted in the seventh game to trail, 3-4. A forehand pass down the line put Rusedski level at 4-4, and after surviving a double-fault on his first game point for 5-4, he hustled Voinea into missing three backhands in the final game. A potent service return on Rusedski's second match point lured Voinea into netting a forehand half-volley.

When Boris Becker made his debut at the United States Open in 1985, spectators marvelled at his disregard for injury as he dived about the concrete courts. Now American crowds, in common with others elsewhere, are simply pleased to see old "Boom-Boom" fit enough to be able to stand up and play.

The 31-year-old German did not let anybody down in the opening round on Thursday night, least of all himself. Fears that sudden injury or illness would cause him to withdraw, as on so many occasions in recent times, proved groundless. Becker was even able to steady himself after an ominous second set against Gianluca Pozzi to defeat the Italian left-hander, 6- 4, 1-6, 6-4.

"I was praying this afternoon that I'm able to go out on the court; nothing is going to happen, no virus," Becker said. His relief was understandable. It was Becker's first ATP Tour singles match in the United States since an opening round loss against the Spaniard Carlos Costa at Indian Wells, California, in March 1996 (Becker, then ranked No 4 in the world, is currently No 78), and his first appearance at the Lipton since 1994, when he was defeated by Andre Agassi in the third round.

It is not as if Becker lacks a goal, having set his mind on finishing his playing career with one last appearance at Wimbledon, where we imagined that the three-times champion's valediction was part of the archive footage from 1997. "I'm going to retire this summer," he reminded us after the Pozzi match. "Until then, I want to give it a good show. I want to prepare myself for my last Grand Slam. I think that's enough reason for me to work hard again and to prepare myself as a professional."

His nostalgia for Wimbledon took hold at Christmas. "I was thinking about what I was going to do," Becker said, "whether to prepare myself for Davis Cup, which last year was the reason I continued playing. But Davis Cup could be very long. We have a strong team with [Nicolas] Kiefer and [Tommy] Haas. Chances are we'll be in the semi-finals. Then it's October. It was something I didn't want to do. I decided to stop this summer because my wife is expecting my second baby. I thought that was a good moment for me to call it all off." And where better than Wimbledon, "to finish my career where it really started for me. Hopefully I'll be able to walk out there again and play good tennis."

En route to the All England Club, Becker plans to play on the concrete courts of Hong Kong and Tokyo and then switch to the clay in Munich and Rome before setting foot on grass at the Stella Artois Championships at the Queen's Club, London.