Tennis: Rivalry with Henman is driving force for Rusedski

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The rise of Greg Rusedski reached new heights yesterday when the Canadian-born British No 1 climbed to No 4 in the world rankings and set his sights on joining the elite at the ATP Tour Championship next month. Dreams, John Roberts says, are becoming reality.

In years to come, some bright new star in the tennis firmament might look in wonderment at the list of names engraved on the Swiss Indoor singles trophy and recite those of the world No ls: "Borg... McEnroe... Sampras... Rusedski." Only a dream, perhaps, but no more so than the notion that Britain would today have a man ranked as high as No 4 in a sport that has been regarded as a national joke.

Continuing the reverie, imagine if Pete Sampras, who is in a class of his own, were to disappear from the head of the game, taking early retirement, perhaps, with career prize money of $30m after finishing No 1 for the fifth consecutive year. That would leave Michael Chang and Pat Rafter ahead of Greg Rusedski.

Such thoughts, if expressed a year ago, would have been laughed off the court. Now, seasoned tennis observers are beginning to believe they might even live to see Wimbledon's first British men's singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936.

Before anyone protests that this is just another example of media hyperbole placing unnecessary pressure on the shoulders of British competitors, consider the latest television advertisement featuring Oxford's Tim Henman.

Adidas, the British No 2's tennis clothing sponsor, present Henman in a dramatic series of clips suggesting that any of the four Grand Slam titles are within his capabilities. And who is to say they are not, given the 23-year-old's talent, the fact that he has already reached No 14 in the world (his current ranking is No 21), and the example set by his Davis Cup team-mate Rusedski in advancing to the final of the United States Open last month?

Thanks to Rusedski and Henman, the British public now has reason to take more than a passing interest in tennis in the weeks of the year outside the Wimbledon fortnight. After years seeking ways to produce players, the Lawn Tennis Association has been blessed with a veritable soap opera. Granted, the cast is comparatively small as yet, but the possibilities are fascinating.

Rusedski, the 24-year-old with the fastest serve in the game (143 mph), elected to become part of the British scene in 1995, having arrived from Montreal with a British passport courtesy of his mother, who was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

Having reached the final of the US Open, Rusedski parted from his American coach of 16 months, Brian Teacher, and enlists the help of Tony Pickard, from Nottingham. Pickard, 63, is famed for his motivational skills in coaxing the supremely gifted Stefan Edberg, of Sweden, to the pinnacle of the sport.

Pickard is also a former British Davis Cup captain, in the days prior to the advent of Henman and Rusedski. It was Pickard who described Henman as the "bright, shining light" of the British game. David Felgate, once Pickard's right-hand man with the Davis Cup squad, is Henman's coach.

David Lloyd, a former player who became a multi-millionaire from the building of indoor tennis and leisure centres, had an input in Henman's early development and is the current Davis Cup captain. Lloyd's brother, John, is the Davis Cup coach.

There is never a lack of optimism where David Lloyd is concerned. "We've got to capitalise on what Greg and Tim are doing," he says. "We haven't quite got a Becker yet, but we're getting on the road to having two guys that people in the street are going to recognise, so I think the opportunity's there to really push.

"At the last LTA meeting, before Greg had his last win, I said we have two guys now that give us reason to start thinking about winning the Davis Cup. We've got to have a three-year plan to actually win the Davis Cup. Like Hoddle, his whole brief when he signed was to win the World Cup. We have to have exactly the same task.

"Say, for example, we go up to the World Group this year and in the first round next year we play America at home. That's a 15,000 or 20,000 seater sale. We've got to book this place now. So we really have to be looking big-time, believing we can win it. I really do believe we can win it.''

Henman and Rusedski describe their relationship as a "friendly rivalry". Friendly or not, the rivalry has proved to be a healthy one for the British game. Rusedski's decision to compete for Britain initially shielded Henman, a year his junior, from being thrust into the position of British No 1 before he was ready.

No sooner had Rusedski begun to establish himself as a potential force in the game than he was overtaken by Henman in the rankings. Spurred by Henman's success, Rusedski responded by raising his game. Both players had to overcome injuries earlier in the year, and both advanced to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Since then Rusedski has gained the initiative.

Rusedski's split with Teacher, a Californian who encouraged the Briton to broaden his game to incorporate a potent return of serve and vastly improved movement and groundstrokes, came as a surprise. Rusedski has emphasised that money was not the reason, saying that their agreement simply came to an end.

The practical side of Rusedski's association with Pickard gets under way in Vienna this week. When reaching the semi-finals at the Grand Slam Cup and winning the title in Basle last week, Rusedski took telephonic tips from his new mentor.

Pickard will remember Rusedski's first appearance in a Grand Slam championship, as a qualifier at Wimbledon in 1993. The 19-year-old Rusedski played Edberg in the first round and pressed him hard before the Swede advanced, 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 has proved the point more than once in recent weeks.

How greg RUSEDSKI has fought his way into the elite of the teNnis world

End of year world ranking

1989 Tied 1103 1990 Tied 679 1991 Tied 603 1992 158 1993 48 1994 117

1995 38 1996 48

ATP Tour singles titles (5)

1993 Newport (RI) (grass)

1995 Seoul (concrete)

1996 Beijing (carpet)

1997 Nottingham (grass) Basle (carpet)

Top Britons since ATP world rankings began in 1973

Greg Rusedski No 4 (Oct 1997)

Roger Taylor No 11 (Sept, 1973)

Tim Henman No 14 (Jan 1997)

Mark Cox No 14 (July 1977)

Buster Mottram No 15 (Feb 1983)

John Lloyd No 21 (July 1978)

Colin Dowdeswell No 31 (Dec 1983)

Jeremy Bates No 54 (April 1995)

Gerald Battrick No 59 (Oct 1973)

Graham Stillwell No 62 (June 1976)

Leading ATP world rankings

1 Pete Sampras (US)

2 Michael Chang (US)

3 Patrick Rafter (Australia)

4 Greg Rusedski (GB)

5 Carlos Moya (Spain)

6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Russsa)

7 Sergi Bruguera (Spain)

8 Marcelo Rios (Chile)

9 Goran Ivanisevic (Croatia)

10 Alex Corretja (Spain)

11 Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil)

12 Thomas Muster (Switzerland)

13 Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden)

14 Felix Mantilla (Spain)

15 Petr Korda (Czech Republic)

16 Thomas Enqvist (Sweden)

17 Richard Krajicek (Netherlands)

18 Mark Philippoussis (Australia)

19 Boris Becker (Germany)

20 Alberto Costa (Spain)

21 Tim Henman (GB)

Rusedski - the story so far

A year of achievement: Rusedski's ATP points

Date Tournament Result Points Bonus Total

Oct 96 Beijing Won 150 22 172

Oct 96 Stuttgart (indoor) 2nd rd 20 32 52

Oct 96 Ostrava 2nd rd 19 0 19

Nov 96 Stockholm QF 45 42 87

Jan 97 Auckland 1st rd 1 0 1

Jan 97 Australian Open 1st rd 1 0 1

Feb 97 Zagreb Finalist 115 60 175

Feb 97 San Jose Finalist 108 73 181

Feb 97 Philadelphia 1st rd 1 0 1

Mar 97 St Petersburg 2nd rd 17 2 19

May 97 Rome 1st rd 1 0 1

May 97 French Open 1st rd 1 0 1

Jun 97 Queen's SF 85 34 119

Jun 97 Nottingham Won 150 54 204

Jun 97 Wimbledon QF 163 72 235

Jul 97 Stuttgart (outdoor) 1st rd 1 0 1

Aug 97 Cincinnati 1st rd 1 0 1

Aug 97 New Haven SF 115 49 164

Aug 97 Boston Qf 33 18 51

Sep 97 US Open Finalist 537 116 653

Sep 97 Bournemouth SF 70 7 77

Oct 97 Basle Won 220 102 322

Results in bold are Rusedski's best 14 results of the past year. World rankings are based on a player's best 14 results over a 12-month period. Qualification for the 1997 ATP Championships is based on a player's best 14 results in the calendar year. Bonus points are based on the ranking of players beaten.

The road to Hanover

The ATP Championships, on 10 November, is the Tour's end-of season competition and features the eight most sucessful players of the year. Qualification is based on points gained in a player's best 14 tournaments of the year.The current standings, with players already assured of their places in bold, are:

Remember when?

`Rusedski is 19, ranked No 155, has an English mother, a German father, Polish-Ukrainian grandparents and carries a British passport. Interesting.'

John Roberts, reporting from Wimbledon

on 22 June 1993

Current Best 14

Ranking in 1997

1 Pete Sampras US (1) 3317

2 Michael Chang US (2) 3130

3 Patrick Rafter Aus (3) 2889

4 Carlos Moya Sp (5) 2391

5 Sergi Bruguera Sp (7) 2357

6 Alex Coretja Sp (10) 2251

7 Gustavo Kuerten Bra (11) 2218

8 Greg Rusedski GB (4) 2203

Current Best 14

Ranking in 1997

9 Jonas Bjorkman Swe (13) 2182

10 Thomas Muster Aut (12) 2164

11 Marcelo Rios Chile (8) 2113

12 Felix Mantill Sp (14) 2076

13 Yevgeny Kafelniko Rus (6) 1892

14 Albert Cost Sp (20) 1778

15 Goran Ivanisevic Cro (9) 762