Rusedski's blitz takes Becker to the brink

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Tennis

Greg Rusedski went close to causing the first major upset of the Australian Open before losing in five sets to Boris Becker, the fourth seed. Becker eventually won 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, but only after Rusedski had led two sets to one and was threatening Becker's serve at the start of the fourth set.

Rusedski's main weapon is his serve, and he went close to breaking his speed record of 137mph, frequently hitting 130mph, with a best of just under 136mph. Becker often had no answer and his frustration showed as he made several irritated comments to the umpire.

The eighth game of the fourth set and the seventh of the fifth set proved the turning points. On both occasions, Becker suddenly got the measure of Rusedski's serve. Rusedski's volleys lost their punch and Becker went on to win in two hours 49 minutes.

Rusedski said: "He showed why he's a great player out there. If you give him a bit of a chance, he makes it go on for ever. That's how he turned the match around. I thought I had a chance throughout but you can never feel you've won against Becker until you've won it."

Becker, who had not won a match at the Australian Open since the second round in 1992, said: "I've broken a jinx by winning. I wasn't nervous, in fact quite the contrary, I was too relaxed. But in the fourth set I realised Greg had a weaker side and I was able to exploit that to my advantage."

Rusedski's defeat leaves Tim Henman flying a lone flag for Britain in the singles. He plays Jonas Bjorkman today after securing his place in the second round with a superb four-set victory over Petr Korda.

He fought back from a set down to win 5-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 and now has the chance to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

Henman should have won the opening set after leading 4-2. He then lost his service when 5-4 up in the second set, after making a series of groundstroke errors, and could then have gone on to lose the match. But he regained his sense of purpose and built a 6-1 lead in the tie-break, finally taking it 7-4 on his fourth set point when Korda put a simple forehand into the net.

A break in the third set for a 4-2 lead proved the decisive moment, and as the match moved into the fourth set, Korda looked increasingly tired. Henman missed two match points at 5-3 on his opponent's serve, but finished the match with a love game after a final ace.

"I played somewhere between well and very well," he said. "I probably played better last week [in Sydney] but it was a different sort of match today. I served very well - that is the difference between now and a few months ago. I can serve well for longer stretches.

"I'm obviously very pleased to have won but I think there are areas for improvement. I play well in some matches but not in others, so in my next match I need to knuckle down and produce a good performance."

Clare Wood failed to progress, losing 6-4, 6-1 to Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion. Her defeat capped a miserable time for the British No 1, who suffered a ligament injury playing at a charity fair in July 1994 when her world ranking was at a career-high 77. She dropped to 232 after the lay-off caused by her injury and was Britain's sole women's singles entrant, ranked 179.

She broke Martinez three times in the opening set, but Martinez gradually found her rhythm and won with an ace after 71 minutes. "I wanted to go to the net more," Wood said. "But she keeps up such a good length that it was difficult. I'm disappointed to have lost, but I suppose winning three matches in the qualifying tournament is a good start to the year."

Pete Sampras, the men's No 1 who feared an early exit after suffering a bout of flu, showed few lingering effects of the illness by beating Richard Fromberg 7-5, 6-3, 6-2. The unseeded Stefan Edberg began his final Australian campaign with a hard-fought 7-6, 7-5, 3-6, 5-7, 6-1 victory over Jiri Novak.

Monica Seles, the women's No 1, ignored the pain from a lingering groin strain to extend her perfect record at the event with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over the American qualifier Janet Lee.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 23

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