Tennis: Korda is thrust back into limelight

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A LINE judge called Cinderella will make her debut at the Dubai Duty Free Open, which seems appropriate since Petr Korda has been saying for a considerable time that his career stands "at five minutes to 12".

While Cinderella El Drouby, from Syria, tries not to be late for the ball, Korda is bound to be a focus of attention, though not necessarily Prince Charming, at the $1m ATP Tour event, which starts today. It is the Czech left-hander's first tournament since he won the latest round in his fight to avoid a year's ban by the International Tennis Federation for a positive drugs test at Wimbledon last summer (ironically, Korda has been banned for a year by his home tennis federation).

Eleven days ago, Mr Justice Lightman ruled in the High Court in London that the ITF did not have the right to take Korda to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. The ITF is to challenge the decision at the Court of Appeal, and it possible that the respective lawyers will be scoring points when Korda, 31, is in Battersea Park competing for the Guardian Direct Cup (22 to 28 February), after playing here and in Rotterdam next week.

Many of Korda's fellow players regarded his escape with a fine and the deduction of world ranking points as the height of the pantomime season. His defence at the International Tennis Federation's independent appeals hearing on 21 December was that he did not know how the steroid nandrolone found its way into his body.

Korda was given a cool reception at the Australian Open, where his reign as the men's singles champion ended with a third-round defeat by the American Todd Martin. It will be interesting to see if he is received more warmly by his peers here today when he plays Youness El Aynaoui, of Morocco, on the Centre Court.

The ITF, although embarrassed and frustrated by the Korda affair, has no wish for a witch-hunt. Deborah Jevans, the ITF's executive medical director, was pleased with the players' anti-doping stance in Australia, but said: "This is not about the individual, but what we believe is a complete misapplication of the rules."

Britain's Greg Rusedski, who could meet Korda in the semi-finals, considers the case closed. "Most of the players are not very happy, because we haven't been given an explanation," Rusedski said.

Rusedski, the No 4 seed, is due to play the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken in the first round tonight. Tim Henman, the No 3 seed, opens against Wayne Black, of Zimbabwe, tomorrow.

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