Tennis: Rusedski attributes success to maturity

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Having had to make do with a walk-on part on each of his three previous visits to the United States Open, Greg Rusedski was determined not allow himself to become overly frustrated by rain en route to the third round.

He took Thursday's delays in his stride. "I walked outside. I walked up and down the stairs about 50 times, going back and forth to the restaurant. Then I went to practise about three or four times, and every time I walked outside it was raining. I got here at 9.45 in the morning and didn't start my match until seven in the evening."

Rusedski reminded himself that his opponent, Marcos Ondruska, was in the same boat, or locker-room, and, as an adoptive Briton, he thought of Wimbledon, where the modern game and rain delays were invented.

"You're going to start off a little tighter and find it harder to get going in the beginning," Rusedski reasoned. So when the call to action came, the British No 1 remained patient, serving his way to a tie-break and then unsettling his South African opponent, 7-3.

From that point, Rusedski's confidence gradually expanded to the level of his first-round victory against David Wheaton, and his advance continued, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1. A total of 21 aces obviously helped, but before the finish Rusedski was flaunting his backhand again.

"I think I've matured a lot as a player, even with this sort of situation, with the delay," he said. "Last year I played [Hendrik] Dreekman in the evening. I had a long delay as well. I didn't handle it as well as I have now."

Rusedski's third-round opponent is Germany's Jens Knippschild, ranked No 100 in the world but not to be underestimated, as he demonstrated by defeating Tim Henman in straight sets in the third round of the Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club in June.

"I've never played him before, but I got a preview at Queen's a little bit. He must be playing well, he beat [Dinu] Pescariu in straight sets." Pescariu being the Romanian, who eliminated the fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic in the opening round here.

As if to underline the fact that rankings can count for little at Grand Slam events, the third seed, Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, went out yesterday, beaten 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 by Mark Woodforde, the Australian who is better known for his doubles success with Todd Woodbridge.

The gains made by Rusedski and Henman have enabled Britain to boast two men in the third round at the US Open for the first time since Buster Mottram and John Lloyd carried the flag in 1979.

"I think Tim and I are starting a little bit of a trend," Rusedski said. "I did well at Wimbledon, and he did well. I'm doing well at the US Open, and he's doing well at the US Open."

Not forgetting the creed, one match at a time. "I'm just trying to stay in the present," Rusedski said. "I won't even think about the next round until the time the match comes along. I think that's what's better with myself. I'm not worrying if I play this person, then that person."

Sam Smith was unable to extend the British presence in the women's singles beyond a second-round match against Conchita Martinez. The Spanish No 7 seed eased through, 6-1, 6-0. Smith none the less deserves credit for working her way though the qualifying tournament and winning her opening match against Australia's Nicole Pratt.

Further evidence of the teenage influence on the women's game came in the form of Mirjana Lucic, the tall, 15-year-old Croat who frequently practises with Martina Hingis, the 16-year-old world No 1. Lucic, who swept past an American newcomer, Aubrie Rippner, 6-0, 6-1, will play Jana Novotna in the third round. "I've heard quite a lot about her," the third- seeded Novotna said. "Basically, I'm looking for a challenge."

Hingis, who defeated Novotona in the Wimbledon final, reckons the experienced Czech will be impressed by what she sees. "Mirjana doesn't look like a 15-year-old and she doesn't handle things like a 15-year-old," Hingis said. "She seems to be experienced at a young age already."

In April, Lucic was invited to Hingis's home to hit with the Swiss prodigy, helping her rehabilitate following knee surgery after falling from a horse.

Hingis, who advanced to the third round with a routine win against the Czech, Denisa Chadkova, 6-2, 6-1, was asked if she felt there was anybody here who could beat her.

"No one is invincible," she said. "When I played my last tournament I lost against Lindsay [Davenport]. That kind of put pressure on me that I also can lose sometimes. You always try to be positive, but when I played Lindsay I knew I was pretty much tired already when I stepped on the court. She was just better that time. I'd played three tournaments in a row , but that's no excuse. I'm ready for this one."

Results, Digest, page 27