Tennis: Rusedski hits the heights

Click to follow
THE BRITISH challenge continues in the pounds 510,000 Guardian Direct Cup today. Greg Rusedski produced some of his finest tennis to defeat Sweden's Thomas Enqvist 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the quarter-finals yesterday.

Rusedski saved his best for the final set, minimising Enqvist's prospects with an impressive display of returning serve to complement his increasingly confident attacking game. "If I play like that I'll be back in the top five," Rusedski said.

The British No 2 needs to consolidate his position, which is No 10 in the world at the moment. He has a heap of ranking points to defend next month at Indian Wells, California, where he reached the final last March before losing to the Chilean Marcelo Rios.

There were phases during yesterday's match when Rusedski, the No 3 seed, seemed vulnerable against Enqvist, seeded sixth, who was the runner-up to Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the Australian Open. But fears that Rusedski would be overhauled quickly disappeared once he had broken to take a 4- 2 lead in the third set. He finished with a total of 20 aces to Enqvist's 16. Perhaps even more significant, the Swede committed 10 double-faults to Rusedski's three during the one hour and 38 minutes' play.

Rusedski made a brisk start, although his early successes were deceptive, often gained as a result of his opponent's errors. The Swede, for example, double-faulted twice in the second game before hitting a backhand long from Rusedski's second service return to be broken for 0-2.

Enqvist immediately had an opportunity to get back into the set, but Rusedski was able to save a break point with a forehand drive and was rather fortunate with his touch on a forehand volley on the last point. Rusedski then had two break points for a 4-0 lead, which would have been flattering. Instead, Enqvist managed to salvage his first game.

After putting together three aces in taking a 4-1 lead, Rusedski was unable to deny Enqvist in the seventh game, the Swede delivering a fierce return off a second serve. Rusedski got his racket to the ball, but could only watch as it flew out of bounds. Games went with serve until 6-5, although Rusedski voiced his disappointment with a line call before saving a break point.

The concluding game of the set provided welcome entertainment. Enqvist, leading 30-15 on serve, was involved in a long rally of improvised shots. The Swede retrieved an angled forehand by Rusedski and then returned a lob between his legs. Rusedski made the mistake of placing his next shot on Enqvist's racket - but the Swede obliged by netting a forehand. Enqvist followed that by missing a backhand volley to offer a set point, which Rusedski converted.

Both players disputed line calls and overules in the second set. Rusedski may have been lucky at times in the opening set, but Enqvist benefited when his forehand was ruled good on break point, enabling him to start his comeback by breaking for 1-0. Rusedski, who ought to have done better with an earlier overhead, showed his disdain by picking up the ball and placing it on the line.

Enqvist held for 2-0 and both players indulged in a silly example of tit-for-tat in the third game. Enqvist lifted the ball and placed it beyond the service line after Rusedski claimed a serve had been good. Rusedski responded by jumping over the net and putting another ball on the line.

By now the aces were flowing. Rusedski advanced his tally to 14 - with a second serve - in saving two set points at 4-5. Enqvist also delivered his 14th ace when serving for the set and, after hitting successive double-faults, he managed to draw level after 72 minutes.

Rusedski proved to have more in reserve, and was particularly pleased with his service returns. "They're not as stylish as Korda's or Agassi's," he conceded, "but I'm making them deep and putting them in the corners."

He now plays the gifted but erratic Morrocan Hicham Arazi in the semi- finals. Asked if he had decided to switch permanently to the new Donnay racket he is using, Rusedski just smiled and said: "I'm just trying it." He added: "But the racket has a 7-2 win-loss record at the moment."

Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, seeded No 4 here, overpowered Karol Kucera, the fourth seed, 6-1, 6-3 after only 53 minutes. The Slovak had not been on the back foot so often since Pete Sampras wiped the court with him in Hanover last November to celebrate a sixth consecutive year as the world No 1.

Krajicek returned to the Netherlands to attend the funeral this morning of his Dutch compatriot Menno Oosting, who was killed in a car crash this week. A private aircraft will bring Krajicek back to London for the semi- finals.

Results, Digest, age 26