Tennis: Rusedski getting into the groove

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The Independent Online
GREG RUSEDSKI goes into the US Open this week with his confidence boosted, despite losing in the semi-finals of the Hamlet Cup in Commack, New York.

"It was satisfying to get seven matches in since my return," Rusedski, the 24-year-old Briton, said after losing 6-4, 7-5 to Patrick Rafter, the reigning US Open champion.

While 25-year-old Rafter, ranked No 3 on the ATP Tour, goes into the US Open in New York as probably the form player on the circuit, Rusedski, playing only his second tournament since a seven-week lay-off with an ankle injury, feels he may still need a few more matches to return to his best. "I didn't raise my intensity level high enough," he said. "I have to get into the match right from the start. Today I didn't. I didn't start off serving very well. You can't do that against top 10 players. They make you pay for it.

"Patrick's serve was definitely on. By far, he's the best player on the tour this summer," Rusedski, who faces South African Wayne Ferreira in a tricky first-round match, said.

Rusedski sprained his ankle at Queen's Club in London on June 12, an injury which saw him sidelined for seven weeks. Second-seeded Rafter was to meet No 8 Felix Mantilla of Spain in the final.

In Brookline, Massachusetts, the fourth-seed Michael Chang escaped several sticky situations to defeat the talented French qualifier Sebastien Grosjean 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the MFS Pro Tennis Championships.

Chang's victory put him into the final against a wildcard entry, Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands, who defeated the third-seeded Frenchman Cedric Pioline by the same 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 scoreline.

Chang, who struggled with three-setters his previous three matches, took the first set with a break in the final game as Grosjean hit two unforced backhand errors. It was the first set Grosjean had lost in four tournament matches.

The 20-year-old Grosjean, playing in only his second career semi-final, used his big forehand to get the vital break in the seventh game of the second set to even the match.

Chang, surviving an exchange of breaks early in the third set, used his patient and potent baseline strokes to get the clinching break at 5-3, then served out the final game.

"He played some tough tennis - he's definitely a talented, up-and-coming player," said Chang about his opponent. "He hit some unbelievable forehands. I'm glad to be in the final."

Haarhuis, making his first ATP Tour final since 1996 and looking for his second career singles title, mastered Pioline with a superior service and a more effective all-round attack.

Meanwhile, Steffi Graf won her first tournament since May 1997 and the 104th title of her career, defeating Jana Novotna 6-4, 6-1 in the Pilot Pen International at New Haven, Connecticut.

The victory marked the first major stepping stone of the German's comeback from injury. She was out of the game from June 1997 after knee surgery, returning briefly in February. But it was not until June that she was able to compete regularly once again.