Tennis: Rusedski feels at home

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While Greg Rusedski challenges for a place in the quarter-finals of the United States Open here, his British rival, Tim Henman, will be back home preparing for his next event on the ATP Tour.

Henman does not plan to join Rusedski at next week's clay court tournament in Bournemouth, however, but is expected to be 3,200 miles away, playing in Tashkent.

Is Henman's journey really necessary? The Lawn Tennis Association, who acquired the date for the Bournemouth tournament, would obviously prefer the 22-year-old from Oxford to take a rare opportunity to compete in a home event.

Henman and his advisers, on the other hand, did not include the Samsung Open in Bournemouth on his itinerary because his record on clay, the sport's slowest surface, did not suggest that he would gain much in the way of world ranking points.

While the likes of Carlos Moya, Felix Mantilla and Cedric Pioline, who grew up on the clay courts of Europe, confirmed their intenion to travel to the West Hants Club, Henman requested a wild card for Tashkent, convinced that his prospects were better on even-paced concrete courts.

Rusedski, of course, is not thinking beyond his next match, today's fourth round meeting with Daniel Vacek, of the Czech Republic. Victory would enable Rusedski to become Britain's first representative in the US Open men's singles quarter-finals since John Lloyd, who was defeated by Jimmy Connors in 1984.

Without a win on his three previous visits to Flushing Meadow, Rusedski is beginning to feel at home in the place. He has even tasted victory in the new Arthur Ashe Stadium, having been promoted to centre stage with Germany's Jens Knippschild on Saturday when injury caused Alex Corretja to withdraw from his match against Richard Krajicek.

If Rusedski's successful run continues, he will play either the unseeded Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, or Felix Mantilla, the No 12 seed.

Two 141 mph serves in opening set helped Rusedski settle into Saturday's match against Knippschild, an improving groundstroke game complementing his fastest serves.

"I don't mind if people just talk about my serve," Rusedski said after defeating the German, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1, "because if they do they're missing out on my returns and my ground shots, so I'll surprise them a few times."

Vacek is unlikely to make that mistake, having just defeated Australia's Mark Philippoussis, the world's fastest gun (142.3 mph).

"Greg is going to be a much tougher opponent," Vacek said. "The difference between Philippoussis and Rusedski is that Greg is much cleverer, and he's also a left-hander, which makes things even more difficult. Both have enormous serves, but Greg seems to play better from the back of the court."

Although Vacek, ranked No 83, has achieved a degree of Grand Slam glory at doubles, partnering Yevgeny Kafelnikov in winning the French Open title for the past two years, he had been eliminated from the singles in the first round of seven consecutive majors before arriving in New York.

"I lost to Tim Henman in New Haven, just before the Open, and Rusedski is now ranked higher than Tim," Vacek reminded us before adding, "but I believe my three wins here shows that my game is also improving."

Rusedski has defeated Vacek three times out of five, the last occasion in Cincinnati in 1994, on a concrete court similar the ones here.

The seeds continue to tumble. Gustavo Kuerten, the French Open champion, ranked No 9, was out-played by Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman on Saturday night, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5.

Cedric Pioline, who defeated Rusedski in the Wimbledon quarter-finals but was no match for Pete Sampras in the final, is through to the last 16. The Frenchman eked out a win against Leander Paes, of India, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Jana Novotna, third favourite in the women's singles, did well to survive a rollercoaster of a match against the 15-year-old Mirjana Lucic, of Croatia, to advance to the fourth round.

Novotna, who was defeated in the Wimbledon final by the 16-year-old Martina Hingis, appeared to be well in control of her match with Lucic when leading by a set and 4-1.

Where Novotna is concerned, nothing can be taken for granted. Lucic recovered and gained the confidence to win a second set tie-break (7-3), and take a 3-1 lead in the final set before Novotna's experience prevailed, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.

The 17-year-old Venus Williams continues to bring a glow of promise to the American women's game, advancing to her first Grand Slam quarter-final yesterday with a 6-2, 6-3 win against the 23-year-old Joannette Kruger, of South Africa, ranked 13 places above her at No 45.

"I've learned to take my time on a lot of shots," Williams said. "Actually, today I started going back to my old way a little bit in the second set. I was rushing things, hitting balls as hard as I can. These things do not work, so I must change."