Teacher tries to keep Rusedski focused on semi-final

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The Independent Online
Tomorrow, when British sport is cancelled on the occasion of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, Greg Rusedski will mark his 24th birthday by attempting become the first Briton since Fred Perry to win a place in the men's singles final at the US Open.

Rusedski's coach, the American Brian Teacher, will endeavour to dissuade the British No 1 from watching television coverage of the funeral before playing his semi-final against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman.

Teacher will emphasise to Rusedski that the best gesture he can make on a day of mourning is to give the best performance of his career.

"I don't belong to your country," the 42-year-old from Los Angeles said yesterday, "but I feel horrible about what happened. And I know Greg feels horrible. The only thing I would be concerned about is the emotions. I don't want him to be down going on to the court.

"I don't think it would be good for him to have the television on for hours in the morning. I'll have a talk with Greg and say to him: `What's going to be served by you focusing on it? Give a moment's silence out of respect, then move on'."

"I think I'll probably watch [the funeral], just out of respect," the Canadian-born Rusedski said after defeating Richard Krajicek, the former Wimbledon champion, in the quarter-finals. "I mean, it's a sad occasion. She was a great humanitarian who did a lot of great things for the world."

Rusedski is determined to keep events in perspective. "Tennis is not even important compared to that tragedy," he said. "Tennis is so secondary, it's not really relevant."

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's match, he intends to delay any birthday celebrations until next week.

Teacher, who has helped the big-serving Rusedski to broaden his game in the 16 months they have worked together, appreciates the strength of the player's attachment to his adoptive country. "Greg feels a part of Britain, he really, really does," he said.

"He's made his home in Britain, and that's where he feels most comfortable. He's extremely committed. You just need to hear the comments which come out of his mouth when he compares the two countries and ribs me about the bad things over here in America."

Teacher conceded, however, that Rusedski has tended to be overshadowed since the emergence of Oxford's Tim Henman. "Greg's never going to capture the hearts of the people like the Henmania thing," he said, "but I think he's been accepted and I think he's extremely well liked over there.

"It's a rivalry, but a friendly rivalry. It's not a jealousy thing. He thinks: `If I could work a little bit harder, I could get what Tim is getting'. He sees Tim do well and he would like to have the same variety [of shots] as Tim."

How much better does he think Rusedski's game can get? "It's hard to say. He's got a chance to win the US Open, which is incredible. Here he is in the semi-finals and you've got to say there's nobody in there he can't beat if he plays his best tennis. I don't see him being No 1 in the world, but if he keeps going, you never know."

Teacher smiled when asked if he imagined giving such an interview when he first linked up with Rusedski before a clay-court tournament in St Polten, Austria, last year.

"I really didn't," he said. "I thought he could make real progress possibly in two or three years, if things went well. But then you see a player blossoming in front of you. It's almost like a domino effect."

Teacher, who once coached Andre Agassi for about three weeks - "Sometimes these things are about timing" - is respected by many former professionals including John McEnroe, who is working as a television commentator here.

"McEnroe said something the other day about Greg's forehand, a little technical detail about the way he approaches it," Teacher said. "It was stuff I've been telling Greg, and it's nice when McEnroe comes up and tells him the same thing."

Teacher was recommended to Rusedski by Agassi's coach, Brad Gilbert. "At the time we started working, Greg was struggling with his returns of serve, not capitalising enough with his volleys and playing too many loose points. In practice he was too lackadaisical in what he was trying to achieve."

Rusedski acknowledges the difference Teacher has made. "He's helped me with my return of serve, my ground shots, my mental approach," he said. "And I'm getting some of his relaxed characteristics. I still can't do all those yoga positions he does, but I'm trying."

Teacher, however, is not sure how much longer he intends to spend on the tour. "I don't like travelling as much," he said. "Next year I'm going to be doing it. If you ask me if I'll be doing it the year after, I wouldn't be able to tell you."

Aside from the technicalities of the sport, Teacher has had personal experience of dealing with unwelcome distractions. His wife, Kathy May, telephoned him on the eve of the 1980 Australian Open to tell him their marriage was over. He almost pulled out of the tournament and went home. Instead he stayed, and won the title.

Bjorkman advanced to meet Rusedski by defeating Petr Korda, who retired, complaining of a virus, with the Swede leading 7-6, 6-2, 1-0. Korda, it will be remembered, eliminated Pete Sampras, the world No 1, in the fourth round.

Results, Digest, page 27

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