TENNIS: A battle too far for tired Rusedski

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HURLING HIS racket to the court, Greg Rusedski admonished it like Basil Fawlty. The manic cameo exemplified Rusedski's frustration, which increased with fatigue, as his campaign at the United States Open foundered in the third round. He will drop out of the world top 10 and also lose the British No 1 ranking to Tim Henman.

Henman had a customary dip of form in the middle of his match yesterday, but steadied himself to defeat Michael Kohlmann, a 24-year-old German qualifier ranked No 159 in the world, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, and advance to the fourth round. Henman (24) and Rusedski both marked birthdays yesterday - celebrate would not be the word in Rusedski's case. Rusedski was unable to outlast the Dutchman Jan Siemerink in five error-strewn sets on Saturday night, a marathon too many. Rusedski went the distance three times, playing 15 sets in a total of nine hours and 10 minutes 15 sets.

He saved two match points against the South African, Wayne Ferreira, one against the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach, and three against Siemerink, who hit an ace on a fourth to win, 4-6, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. The Labor Day weekend is supposed to be a holiday.

Rusedski did surprisingly well considering the turmoil of his summer since turning an ankle at London's Queen's Club in June. The injury cost him any chance of success at Wimbledon, led indirectly to a parting from his coach, Tony Pickard, and put him out of action for two months.

The man's ambition, however, is as strong as his serve. Reaching the US Open final last year projected him towards 52 weeks among the game's elite and a host of British sports personality awards. He spent his 25th birthday yesterday nursing disappointment. "I just don't like to be mediocre," he said.

Losing in the third round cost Rusedski 550 ATP Tour computer ranking points. He is expected to fall to No 13 or No 14. Henman, No 13 going into the tournament, has already done enough to improve his position. "He deserves to go back to the top [of the British rankings]," Rusedski said. "He had a great run at Wimbledon and he's played well here."

Rusedski does not intend to let his rival rest. "I don't let anybody relax," he said, "whether they're the British No 1 or whether Mr Sampras is No 1. I'm going a little bit backwards at the moment, but hopefully I can take a couple of steps forward."

His next steps will not be on the clay courts at Bournemouth next week."I'm going to have a week off." he said. "I have some commitments I made three months ago, so I'm sticking to those." Rusedski's next appearance will be in the Davis Cup World Group promotion play-off against India at Nottingham, from 25-27 September.

British supporters trust that a refreshed Rusedski will find greater consistency on his first serve and show a marked improvement with his ground-strokes. Siemerink showed how vulnerable Rusedski can be against a net-rushing opponent. The Briton's backhand appeared to have regressed 18 months, and the Dutchman frequently tortured him with shots to the feet.

Don't mention the feet, as Fawlty might say. Foot-faults contributed to Rusedski's ire, one particular call on a second serve leading to his being broken for 1-2 in the fourth set. "That was impossible," Rusedski told the umpire. "Thank you for changing the match."

Having had time to calm down, Rusedski said, "It was a tough call, but these things happen. You have to get over them and move on. I don't think I would have put myself in such difficulties if I'd had a higher percentage of first serves. In the end he was just all over me."

As soon as the match was over, Rusedski tried to lift his mood. "It's always disappointing when you lose in a Grand Slam. I haven't had a very good Grand Slam season - Australia third round, French first round, missed Wimbledon basically, and then third round here. Next year I can only get better."

Rusedski has much work to do with his new coach, the Dutchman, Sven Groeneveld.

"I wanted to come back here and at least get to the finals. Now I have to find a new goal. I'm getting a little bit older. Maybe I'll get wiser and figure out a way to win these matches."

When Monica Seles was on her way to the top, she was asked if she minded signing autographs. "Not at all," she replied. "I just wish my name was shorter, like Po."

Seles wrote Kimberly Po's name out of the US Open, defeating the 26-year- old American, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to advance to the quarter-finals of the women's singles. Po, who detained Seles for an hour and 38 minutes, hit 40 winners. Sadly, she committed 50 unforced errors.