Rusedski's power play gives hope

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The Independent Online

Attempting to read Greg Rusedski's serve was such a lost cause for Iztok Bozic, the Slovenian No 1, here yesterday that he might as well have taken the Sunday papers on the court.

While not quite reaching the point of no return, Bozic came close as Rusedski dismantled him, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, in 81 minutes to serve Britain safely through the first round Euro/African Zone Group Two tie.

July brings a trip to Ghana in the second round, and victory there would lead to a promotion play-off at home in September, with Egypt the probable opponents.

If Rusedski can reproduce yesterday's form there will be ample scope for optimism, particularly with Tim Henman due to rejoin him in the team after missing the tie here because of a virus. Rusedski himself was not feeling his best and slept for an hour and a half on the treatment table before the match.

The hapless Bozic may have imagined at first that Rusedski had brought a bucket to entertain the spectators with target practice between games, such was his domination of the points. He delivered 24 aces - six off second serves.

Bozic was frequently motionless as Rusedski's bullets whistled by, and when he did make a move to intercept the wicked spin on the left-handed serve would bend the ball beyond his despairing racket.

After Rusedski whacked down his 20th ace to shoot 2-0 ahead in the final set, Bozic turned to the crowd and said: "Too many - they shouldn't allow it." And as Rusedski prepared to toss the ball on match point, the Slovenian begged him, "Don't make an ace now, please.''

Rusedski showed no mercy. As an untouchable ball flashed past Bozic one last time, the Briton said: "Yes, I will!''

Only then, having given his team a decisive 3-1 lead, did Rusedski permit himself a customary broad smile. He had been poker-faced for most of the match, partly because of his health and also because his mind was intent on business.

"I was in a semi-comatose state today," Rusedski said afterwards. "I have struggled with a virus since I was in Tokyo [two weeks ago], and this morning I didn't know if I was going to play. That's why I was so focused on court. I just wanted to get the match over.''

Bozic was barely recognisable as the lively player who had defeated Mark Petchey in the second singles rubber to level the tie at 1-1 on Friday night. The pace and accuracy of Rusedski's serves swiftly demoralised him, and his play matched his world ranking, 361 places below the Briton at No 419.

The opening set took only 19 minutes, in which time the Slovenian had made only two returns and had wrested only one point off Rusedski's deliveries. By the end of the match, the number had grown to eight.

"Greg was frighteningly good," David Lloyd, the British captain, said. "I never spoke to him once on the court. You hear about players being in the zone, and all that crap, but Greg was definitely focused today. I reckon he only made three errors.''

Shouldering most of the responsibility in Henman's absence, Rusedski recovered from the shock of losing a third set tie-break 7-0 to Borut Urh, the Slovenian No 2, to win the opening singles rubber 3-1. Rusedski then conceded only six points on his serve when partnering Neil Broad to a straight-sets victory in Saturday's doubles against Urh and Gregor Krusic.