Tennis: Rusedski appoints Pickard as coach

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Greg Rusedski has switched coaches, leaving Brian Teacher, the American who took him to the top 10, for Nottingham's Tony Pickard, who guided Stefan Edberg to No 1 in the world. John Roberts looks at a surprising changeover.

Until Brian Teacher came along 16 months ago, Greg Rusedski was generally regarded as a mighty server who lacked the groundstrokes to prosper other than on the faster court surfaces. Since then, Rusedski's spectacular all-round improvement has taken him to the final of the United States Open, to No 10 in the world rankings, and enabled him to win $425,000 (pounds 283,000) as a semi-finalist at the Compaq Grand Slam Cup, which ended yesterday here with Pete Sampras lifting the trophy and $2m.

So why change a winning team? "Brian and I simply had an agreement to work until September and we finished working together at the US Open," was all Rusedski would say, having confirmed that Tony Pickard had become his new mentor.

Pickard, the 63-year-old former British Davis Cup captain from Nottingham, said the invitation to coach the Canadian-born British No 1 "came right out of the blue. I thought about it long and hard, because I have other commitments''.

He added, "Greg's agents approached me just after the US Open, then Greg and I had a meeting, talking about things and helping me to get a picture of where things were, and why. It didn't make sense to me in a way, then he explained the reasons why." Which were? "You'll have to ask Greg.''

Rusedski's mother, Helen, was born in Yorkshire, and he was brought up with dual nationality. His father, Tom, a railway employee, has been the driving force behind his son's career. The family had to remortgage their home on more than one occasion to pay for Greg's tennis tuition. Tom Rusedski has not always endeared himself to those he has endeavoured to convince of his son's potential.

The 24-year-old left-hander has had a variety of coaches, some fleetingly. He visited the Australian Fred Stolle in Florida, received pointers from the Romanian George Patrich and worked briefly with Louis Cayer, the Canadian Davis Cup captain. Pancho Segura also had an input.

Scott Brooke, an American, travelled extensively with Rusedski until the move to Britain led to a period with Warren Jacques, the Australian former British Davis Cup captain.

Rusedski's agent, John Mayotte, arranged for Rusedski to work with Teacher in May last year on the recommendation of Andre Agassi's coach, Brad Gilbert. The laid-back Teacher, a former Australian Open champion, helped Rusedski build confidence in his service returns and to develop an expertise in his backhand that had once seemed beyond his capabilities.

During the US Open, however, the 42-year-old Teacher hinted that he did not intend to keep on travelling thousands of miles away from his young family in Los Angeles for too much longer.

Rusedski telephoned Pickard from Munich every day during the Grand Slam Cup. "He's been doing all my strategy, and helped me particularly in my match against [Yevgeny] Kafelnikov. Tony's proved by taking Stefan to the top that he's one of the best coaches in the world.''

Pickard's motivational skills helped Edberg to win six Grand Slam championships and every major title except the French Open on the slow clay of Paris, where the Swede was runner-up to Michael Chang in 1989.

Pickard gave Rusedski a few tips before Saturday's Grand Slam Cup semi- final against Sampras, which the American won, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-2, after being bamboozled by the Briton's serve in an opening set which was completed in only 20 minutes.

"For three sets I didn't think two guys could serve that well," said Pickard, who watched the match on television. "At first Greg was attacking the Sampras serve, but later he held off. You could put that down basically to a lack of experience.

"Greg is unbelievably competitive. His commitment is good. He's very sincere in his approach to the game and very level-headed about how his life should be run. With the top 10 as it is, there is no reason why he can't get into the top five. And if he does that, then anything can happen.''

Sampras underlined why he reigns supreme by dismantling a weary Pat Rafter in yesterday's final, 6-2, 6-4, 7-5, after an hour and 36 minutes. The Australian might have taken Sampras's US Open title three weeks earlier, but he had no answer to Sampras's almost flawless play, particularly after spending four hours and 16 minutes on court with Korda in the semi-finals.

Rafter's consolation was a cheque for $1m. Sampras added $2m to his previous haul in Munich. The grand total is $7,393,750 - 25.1 per cent of the American's career prize-money approaching $30m.

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