Rusedski rouses old resentment

Writer's cramp threatens to be an occupational hazard for Greg Rusedski. The British No 1 was ordered off the Centre Court after his match at the Guardian Direct National Championships yesterday by Alan Mills, the Wimbledon referee, because his autograph-signing was delaying the proceedings. What a wonderful development that is for the domestic game.

Much has changed for the good since Rusedski forsook Canada and brought his big serve and huge smile to his mother's birthplace, not least that the other British players become highly motivated when they have an opportunity to take a crack at him.

Mark Petchey, who headed the welcoming committee when Rusedski made his debut as a Brit by defeating him in three sets in the first round of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club five months ago - "he wanted to make a good impression, and I'm glad I didn't let him" - is delighted to be in a position to repeat himself in the semi-finals here today.

The resentment caused by Rusedski's recruitment has "petered out", Petchey emphasised, and it was never meant to be personal. "But I still stand by what I said," he added. "Greg's Greg, and you want to make a point when you play against him. He's that sort of character, a confident guy who projects himself well. It's a male ego thing. When you get someone as confident as that, everybody wants to beat him. When he's "on" he's unbelievable. He has to project himself the way he does. It depends what type of person you are. That sort of thing can get in your face."

The other semi-final brings together the 33-year-old defending champion Jeremy Bates, who is competing in his last Nationals after winning the title on six occasions, and his doubles partner, the 21-year-old Tim Henman. "It's a good showdown for the tournament," Bates said, underlining the point that the top four seeds have advanced to the last four for the first time since the championships began in 1983.

Yesterday, Rusedski defeated the 19-year-old Luke Milligan, of Middlesex, 6-4, 6-2. Petchey, the fourth seed, was stretched by Kent's Colin Beecher, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Henman, the third seed, eliminated the 18-year-old Jamie Delgado, 6-2, 7-6, and Bates, the No 2, beat the seventh-seeded Barry Cowan, of Lancashire, 6-2, 7-6.

Henman has not won a set in his two previous matches against Bates, who is troubled by a wrist injury. "If somebody hits the ball hard at me I cringe, because I don't want to hit it," he said. "But, having got this far, I'm not going to default now."

The women's singles final today is between Clare Wood, the top seed, and Sam Smith, the No 8. Smith, who recently returned to the sport from university, tucked the 35-year-old Jo Durie back into retirement, though not without a struggle. Durie, the seven-times champion, capitalised on Smith's early errors before being overhauled, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.

Wood, the champion in 1989 and 1993, ended an encouraging campaign by the serve-volleying Amanda Janes, 6-3, 6-3. The 17-year-old qualifier from Essex has been a delight to watch.

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