Rusedski reveals sense of theatre

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The Independent Online

Tennis Correspondent

A winning smile. Winning ways. Before we know it, Greg Rusedski will be throwing his Union Jack bandana into the ring for the Tory leadership. John Major could do worse than hire the Canadian import's PR man.

If the campaign continues with - dare we hope? - a triumph against Pete Sampras in the last 16 on Monday, there could be dancing in the streets of Dewsbury, his mother's birthplace, and Rusedski's London base may be embellished with Purley gates.

Temperatures rose to a record 110F on the Centre Court, but those who like it really hot begged for a place on the adjacent Court One, where the new Brit seared 36 aces past Olivier Delaitre en route to the fourth round.

Had the compact Frenchman contrived to stretch the contest into a fifth set, the Wimbledon record of 42 aces - delivered by Britain's John Feaver when losing to John Newcombe on Court Two in 1976 - would surely have been blown away. Rusedski ended that prospect by winning, 6-7, 6-4, 6- 4, 7-6, after two hours and 29 minutes.

The day began with the possibility of two British players striding into the second week: Mr Happy (Rusedski) and Mr Angry (Chris Wilkinson), who was eager to hammer home his point that Rusedski belongs to Canada.

Having reached round three for the third time consecutively, Wilkinson made an encouraging start against the Californian, Michael Joyce, but failed to sustain the momentum - "I let my foot off the accelerator pedal" - and was defeated, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4. So we are left with one Brit in the last 16 for the fourth consecutive year, a tradition set by Jeremy Bates and Andrew Foster.

Joyce, whose father, Mike, was the director of photography on How the West Was Won, now faces an unexpected opponent rising from the east. Shuzo Matsuoka, from Tokyo, ranked No 108, defeated the Argentinian, Javier Frana, to become the first Japanese in the Open era to advance to the fourth round. Matsuoko, it may be remembered, was the runner-up to the South African Wayne Ferreira at Queen's Club in 1992.

Rusedski, presented with his third French opponent of the tournament, began moderately against Delaitre, at 5ft 7in the shorter by eight inches, before warming to the task, backed by support which became more fanatical with every game.

Though Rusedski's serve was not broken until the second game of the fourth set, his second deliveries were less profitable than his opponent's in the early stages. Delaitre, having forced a first set tie-break, won it, 8-6.

The Frenchman's serve proved less reliable thereafter. He double-faulted 14 times, crucially on break point in the seventh game of the second set and again in the fifth game of the third, assisting Rusedski to take a 2-1 lead.

Already sensing victory, the crowd was taken aback when their new favourite lost the opening three games of the fourth set. At this point, Rusedski decided to replace his patriotic bandana with a protective white cap, heeding the advice of the St John Ambulance to spectators to wear loose- fitting cotton clothes and a hat. The bandana was given to Rusedski by the Sun, and the sun caused him to remove it.

Delaitre, bare-headed, remained bold, but to his cost. He double-faulted again to offer Rusedski the second of two break points in the fifth game, and netted a backhand volley attempting to save it.

Games went with serve up to 6-6, Rusedski guaranteeing a second tie-break by striking three successive aces and a backhand volley. He proceeded to win the first four games of the shoot-out, clinching the match, 7-3, with an ace. It took his total to 77 in three matches on Sunset Strip, SW19.

Rusedski said he had worked hard to "get the kinks" out of his serve and had also practised his returns. He also acknowledged Delaitre's donations to his victory.

"I was pretty nervous playing Olivier, because I've lost to him, 6-3, 6-3," he said. "He's very, very flashy and he's got a deceptive serve, pretty deep. I was fortunate he threw in a few double-faults to give me a break."

Sampras, who closed the day's play on Court One, recovered from being a set down for the second time in the tournament, defeating a compatriot, Jared Palmer, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

Looking forward to Monday's encounter with the American, Rusedski said: "It will be a great moment for me, a dream match. The only other person I had a dream about playing when I was younger was walking on Centre Court with John McEnroe. I practised with Pete before the Australian Open this year. We split sets in practice."

For Goran Ivanisevic, meeting Sampras in last year's final turned out to be more like a nightmare. The Croat served 22 aces while continuing his advance towards a projected semi-final against Sampras this time with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win against Arnaud Boetsch, of France.

The fourth-seeded Ivanisevic now plays the American Todd Martin, seeded No 14, so do not hold your breath waiting for rallies. Martin, who defeated a compatriot, Derrick Rostagno, 6-4 in the fifth set on Court 14, offered advice to the ground staff.

"Whoever tried to do something to the balls didn't do a good job, because it's no slower," Martin said. "Until they stop cutting the grass shorter and shorter, as the tournament goes on, it's always going to be fast, like Goran said, whether we use water balls or whatever.

"The court today was 20 to 25 per cent faster than it was just two days ago when I played, and the grass is dying quickly, because of the sun and because of the abuse its getting. But they're also cutting the grass much shorter. In my little lawnmowing experience, the shorter you cut it, the easier it dies. So maybe they should just put some water in the balls."

Sampras considered it "ironic" that Britain should find a new No 1 - "a big-serving leftie" - and start using a softer ball. "Maybe next year we'll be playing with golf balls," he said.

With another week stretching ahead, we must trust that the weather has not peaked to soon. Perhaps it would be wise to hope that Sampras stays around. Fine weather has coincided with his two years of success, making him a non-raining champion.

Martin Johnson, page 26



Greg Rusedski dismisses Delaitre but his fellow-Briton Chris Wilkinson loses to Joyce

Gabriela Sabatini, down 5-0 in the first set, comes back to beat Nancy Feber 7-5, 6-1

No 14 seed Todd Martin comes through a gruelling five-setter against Derrick Rostagno

Shirli-Ann Siddall is taken off with heat exhaustion but is later reported fit and well

Jo Durie exits the women's doubles but advances in the mixed with Jeremy Bates, seeing off the Russians, Olkhovskiy and Maniokova