Tennis: New faces for '94: Rusedski's potential for breakthrough: A young Canadian who may yet play for Britain is moving up the tennis rankings. John Roberts reports

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The Independent Online
DURING the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt, the annual November finale attended by British reporters and photographers, Tony Pickard, Stefan Edberg's British coach, the odd British umpire, but no British players, conversation turned to the could-be- British Greg Rusedski.

Rusedski, you see, has a British mother and a British girlfriend. He also has a German father and Polish-Ukrainian grandparents and was born and raised in Canada. But he does possess a British passport, which cannot be said of any other 20-year-old, 6ft 3in, left-handed player ranked in the world's top 50.

Why, it was asked, did the Lawn Tennis Association run in the opposite direction instead of beckoning Rusedski to the British fold? Here, it was argued, was a competitor with the potential to win Wimbledon and provide the ignition for the domestic game which the All England Club's millions had so far failed to produce.

Steady on. The LTA has not run in any direction with regard to Rusedski. The national governing body is as aware of him as it is of the number of home-grown fledglings currently being groomed at Bisham Abbey, and has stated that if Rusedski bases himself in Britain he will be considered for international selection. But there is no inclination to attempt to prise him from Canada with promises of financial support.

The notion of a Lennox Lewis with a tennis racket was bound to appeal to some, though Lewis was actually born in London and spent his early years there. Rusedski was born in Montreal and resides in the Quebec town of Pointe Claire.

What the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion and the emerging tennis player have in common is that both owe a good deal to the Canadian sports authorities. However, there have been so many instances of fudged nationality in sport that loyalty often tends to be overlooked.

Rusedski's father was prepared to remortgage his house in order to subsidise his son's development and he is obviously keen to see his investment prosper. While great Canadians do not exactly cram the pages of tennis history, nor does it require a Barry Hearn to calculate the bonanza awaiting a player who can crack Wimbledon on behalf of Britain.

Whether Rusedksi is that good, and whether he would be accepted as a true Brit, is open to speculation. What can be said with a degree of certainty is that his game has a lot more going for it than we have seen from Britain's most recent adoptions, the South African- born Neil Broad and the American-born Monique Javer.

It may be remembered that the opening day at Wimbledon last June was marked by the arrival of the defending champion, Andre Agassi, on Centre Court to surprise his critics with a straight sets win against the German Bernd Karbacher.

On the same day, Stefan Edberg, the second seed, was given a difficult time by Rusedski on Court Two. The Canadian qualifier led

5-1 in a first set tie-break. Edberg pulled level at 5-5, but Rusedski created a set point at 6-5. The Swede saved it with a service winner, but then double-faulted. Edberg, relieved to see Rusedski do the same on two more set points, won the tie-break, 11-9, and went on to take the match, 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6.

'In the first tie-break there were a lot of nerves on both sides,' Edberg said, 'then in the last tie- break he made an easy mistake at

5-4 and gave me the two match points. That's sometimes the difference, a point here and there where maybe a little more experience will help.'

Rusedski, ranked No 155 that day, proved to be a quick learner. Twenty days later he won his first ATP Tour title, using an impressive serve to good affect on the grass courts of Newport, Rhode Island. He defeated the Argentinian, Javier Frana, in the final, 7-5, 6-7,

7-6, having won two out of three tie- breaks against the Austrian, Alex Antonitsch, in the semi-finals.

Encouraged by his success, Rusedski went on to startle several fancied contenders and improve his ranking during an October campaign on carpet courts in Japan and China. He defeated Wayne Ferriera, Richard Krajicek and Michael Chang (4-6, 6-3, 7-6) before losing to Todd Martin in the semi-finals in Tokyo, and was beaten by Chang

(7-6, 6-7, 6-4) in the Peking final.

At the beginning of November, Rusedski advanced to the semi- finals in Aachen, but had to retire during the second set when losing to Jan Apell, of Sweden, 7-5, 3-1. He rose to No 48 and his year's earnings, dollars 151,345 ( pounds 107,000), accounted for three-quarters of his career prize-money.

Those who saw Rusedski's 6-3, 6-4 win against Brad Gilbert in the semi-finals in Peking were impressed by his powers of concentration. The American is adept at unsettling the best. As he advises in his book, Winning Ugly: 'Be aware of the personal dynamics of the match and recognise what the other player is doing to affect your game - gamesmanship, tempo, or anything else that can crack your concentration and take your mind off the goal. Protect yourself.'

Maybe Rusedski had read the book, because whatever personal dynamics Gilbert tried, the Canadian simply looked down at his shoes and worked out the best way to win the next point. We shall see if he is ready to raise his sights, whatever adorns his banner.

(Photograph omitted)

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