Tennis: French lesson is inspiration for Rusedski

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TENNIS PROS become adept at swallowing disappointments and moving on, literally and psychologically. Greg Rusedski was in the gym at Stade Roland Garros yesterday, strengthening his upper body for Wimbledon, before catching a flight back to London today.

After treatment to an infected big toe, the British No 2 was reassured that he would be able to set foot on grass courts within a day or two in preparation for next week's Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club.

Rusedski is due to compete there in the company of Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, who has been given a wild card, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the world No 1, Tim Henman, the British No 1, Goran Ivanisevic, Mark Philippoussis, and dear old Boris Becker, who is planning a retirement party in SW19. Queen's Club holds no dread for Rusedski, in spite of the memory of the ankle injury that wrecked his Wimbledon prospects last year. "That was just a freak mishap," he said. "It was totally unfortunate. This year I'll have to go with a positive attitude and everything will be fine."

Rusedski's sense of humour is intact. "I wish I was still preparing for the French Open, because I'd like to see a UFO land in Britain," he said, giving another airing to his joke that alien visitors were more likely than a triumph for him on the Paris clay. "I'm glad nobody put any money on me. Nobody lost anything, so it turned out all right."

It turned out better than all right, for both Rusedski and Henman, whose adventures on the slow red courts of Europe should work to their benefit in terms of improved ground strokes and stamina for the crucial weeks ahead.

Henman lost to Alberto Berasategui last Friday after leading the Spaniard by two sets to love in the third round; Rusedski was outsmarted in straight sets by the Uruguayan Marcelo Filippini on Sunday. The results were disappointing, but timely perhaps.

"I think I'm looking good going into Wimbledon if I can stay healthy," Rusedski said. "It's not too hard a transition, because I've been serving and volleying a lot, playing an attacking style. I have to change my footwork slightly on the grass. It's going to be one-or-two-ball sort of tennis now. I'll be ready for that. I think I'm just getting better as a player. I think every event I come to now I can do well. This preparation here will definitely help me."

He went so far as to speak optimistically about the French Open. "Next year when I come back I might even have a chance to go further and actually be a threat rather than a person signed up for the tournament and just hoping to be here during the first week."

This year, yet again, the predominantly attacking players have left the destiny of the men's singles title in the hands of the baseline specialists, eight of whom duelled to complete the quarter-final line-up yesterday.

Two Brazilians will be represented: Gustavo Kuerten, the No 8 seed, who won the title in 1997, defeated the unseeded Bohdan Ulihrach, of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, and Fernando Meligeni, ranked No 54, defeated Felix Mantilla, the Spanish No 14 seed, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6.

Kuerten now plays the Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, Sampras's second-round conqueror, ranked No 100, who eliminated the Frenchman Arnaud Di Pasquale, 7-6, 7-6, 6-1. Meligeni will meet Alex Corretja, of Spain, the No 6 seed, who was the runner-up to his compatriot Carlos Moya last year. Corretja defeated Austria's Stefan Koubek yesterday, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.

A cameo on Court No 1 featured Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe on opposite sides of the net in the over-35s men's doubles, Borg deadpan as ever, McEnroe all touch and mock torture. Among the spectators was McEnroe's wife, Patty Smyth, accompanied by their two daughters, Anna, two, and Eva, five weeks, with their nannies. McEnroe spoke to the group from time to time, and at one point his partner, Henri Leconte, fetched Anna a bottle of water from the courtside fridge.

McEnroe and Leconte won, 6-3, 6-2. Borg was partnered by Andres Gomez, of Ecuador, who frustrated Andre Agassi in winning the title here in 1990, at the age of 30. Agassi reached the final again in 1991, losing to his American compatriot, Jim Courier.

Agassi, 29, continues his quest for the only Grand Slam singles title to have eluded him. Having eliminated Moya in the fourth round, he plays Filippini in the quarter-finals today.

"It would be awesome to win this tournament," Agassi said. "I've come so close. I don't think about my age until my body is in pain. Sometimes I've been forced to think about it. But I feel real strong."