Rusedski storms into the last four

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Greg Rusedski is only two matches away from winning the United States Open, a possibility British tennis could scarcely have contemplated when the big-serving left-hander arrived in London from his Canadian birthplace three years ago.

A straight-sets victory against Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, in a windswept Arthur Ashe Stadium here yesterday took care of Rusedski's plans for the weekend. He will mark his 24th birthday on Saturday playing either Petr Korda or Jonas Bjorkman in the semi-finals.

To put the situation in perspective, the last man to play for Britain in the last four at the United States championships was Mike Sangster, who lost to Rod Laver at Forest Hills in 1961. John Lloyd was the last British male to reach a Grand Slam singles semi-final, reaching the final of the 1977 Australian Open.

Dare we even mention that the last British man to win a Grand Slam singles title, here on anywhere else, was Fred Perry, who defeated Donald Budge, 10-8 in the fifth set, at Forest Hills in 1936.

Rusedski is mindful that the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, is due to take place in Britain on the morning before he plays his semi-final here. "I think it's going to be a difficult task," he said. "But I'm just going to go out there and try my best and hopefully I'll be able to handle the situation."

The unseeded Rusedski mastered yesterday's tricky conditions better than his Dutch opponent to win his fifth consecutive match here without dropping a set, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6.

The capricious wind made it virtually impossible for the players to serve with their usual accuracy, though the potency of their deliveries remained. Rusedski, in fact, produced the fastest serve of his career - 142mph. Ironically, it failed to secure a game point at the start of the second set. Krajicek somehow returned the ball so well that Rusedski's attempt at a forehand cross-court pass landed wide.

Although the match was played on concrete, it was a replica of the type of matches we have come to expect at Wimbledon when two hefty serving opponents face one another. It is hard to reconcile the fact that Rusedski had not won a match on his three previous visits to the US Open, such has been the improvement in the quality of his ground strokes and the sharpness of his volleying. Yesterday, Rusedski served only two aces but, it was almost back to basics - serve, serve, serve and return dominating the duel.

Rusedski's confidence from having beaten Krajicek in four of their previous five matches counted for much, particularly at the start of the match, when his serve was broken in the opening game. A double fault gave Krajicek the incentive to start with an advantage, but Rusedski immediately broke back.

Rusedski, who saved a break point in the seventh game, took the first set by pressing Krajicek's serve in the 12th game to such an extent that the Dutchman tried too hard and double faulted on set point after 34 minutes.

We have grown accustomed during Rusedski's campaign here to seeing him steady his game by holding serve and working his way to a tie-break early in matches. The second and third sets yesterday followed that pattern.

Rusedski won the first shoot out, 7-5, luring Krajicek into netting a forehand on the third set point. Both players saved break points in the third set, and when it came to the tie-break, the Dutchman was the first to threaten, creating a mini-break to put Rusedski 1-2 in arrears. The Briton swiftly retaliated, winning the next four points. For a while it seemed that Krajicek would find a way back into the match, however. Rusedski, with two serves to finish the job at 5-4, netted a forehand and then made the most glaring mistake of the match, netting a back hand volley from close range.

That presented Krajicek with a set point, but Rusedski cancelled it with a backhand drive. He then passed the Dutchman with a forehand to create a match point, celebrating with a yell of joy when his opponent steered a second service return over the baseline, to put the message 8-6 on the scoreboard in Rusedski's favour.

American misery, after the defeat of Pete Sampras, continued when Andre Agassi's quest ended in the fourth round on Tuesday night. He lost 6- 3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 to Pat Rafter. The 13th-seeded Australian, now plays the unseeded Magnus Larsson, of Sweden, in the semi-finals.

Some consolation for the Americans has been derived on the women's side from Lindsay Davenport's advance to her first Grand Slam singles semi- final, joining the debutante Venus Williams in the last four. Davenport, the No 6 seed, won an erratic, match against the third-seeded Novotna, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6.

Results, Digest, Page 27