TENNIS: Rusedski is erased by erratic serve

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GREG RUSEDSKI'S prospects of reaching the quarter-finals of the $1m (pounds 600,000) Dubai Duty Free Open capitulated in astonishing fashion last night. One moment the British No 2 and world No 10 was coasting along, leading Francisco Clavet, of Spain, by a set and two breaks of serve, the next he was floundering his way out of the tournament, 3-6, 7-5, 6- 2.

Clavet, ranked No 29, cracked Rusedski's famous serve seven times in nine attempts to take control of what had seemed a lost cause after the 30- year-old Spaniard had slumped to 0-3 in the second set.

The one obvious difference between Rusedski last night compared to the end of last season, when he outplayed Pete Sampras to win the Paris Open, was that he was experimenting with a new racket, a Donnay in patriotic red, white and blue, in place of his customary Wilson. Whether the workman or the tool was responsible for 10 double-faults against only two aces is open to question.

Even when Rusedski double-faulted to lose the fourth game it seemed that the error would only be a blip on an otherwise satisfactory night in competition with a fellow left-hander. But the scene changed dramatically after Clavet saved two break points in the fifth game, having been warned in between for an audible obscenity.

Clavet stood and argued with the German umpire, Rudi Berger, instead of taking a rest during the changeover, but it transpired that he, not Rusedski, was now the player fired up for action. He immediately broke to love to level the set at 3-3.

Although Rusedski appeared to have steadied the situation, delivering a smash to break for 4-3, a couple of double-faults encouraged Clavet back into contention, and the Spaniard lobbed him for 4-4.

Rusedski rescued one set point in the 10th game with a volley, but double- faulted to 0-40 at 5-6, hauling himself back to deuce only for Clavet to strike on his third set point.

The arrival of the third set did little to restore Rusedski's spirits. He was unable to make an impression on Clavet's serve in the opening game, and the match evaporated in front of the fourth seed's eyes after he was broken for 0-2.

Concerning the racket, Rusedski would not go beyond saying "I'm just trying it out," and the only point he raised other than his own performance was that the balls were heavier and slower than in his first-round match against the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken.

"I had control of the match for about a set and a half and played a loose game and he started to get his momentum," Rusedski said, taking a characteristically philosophical stance. "Everybody goes through stages where they have a tough time. That's part of the game. I'm on my way home now, and next week I start again in Rotterdam."

Clavet will go on to play Germany's Nicolas Keifer, ranked No 41, in the next round.

The 21-year-old Keifer eliminated the No 6 seed, Albert Costa, of Spain, 6-3, 7-6, although towards the end of the second set it seemed that the German was going to fritter away his chances. He led 4-0 and had three match points, on Costa's serve, before the tie-break, and led 5-0 in the shoot-out before securing his place in the quarter-finals, 7-3, on his fifth match point.

Carlos Moya, the No 2 seed, advanced to the last eight with a 6-4, 6- 4 win against Thomas Muster, the 1997 champion. The 31-year-old Muster still relishes a scrap, but Moya was determined to extend his run of three consecutive wins against the Austrian, who had given the Spaniard some harsh lessons in their first three matches.

Muster was on the wrong end of some dubious line calls, particularly when broken in the concluding game of the opening set, but he reserved his ire for himself, earning a warning for breaking his racket in frustration after a net cord in the 10th game of the second set hastened his departure.

Moya is the favourite to succeed his compatriot, Alex Corretja, the defending champion, top seed and world No 2, who is still coming to terms with his inability to take any of five match points in his first-round contest against the spirited Australian Andrew Ilie, who converted his third match point to win a third-set tie-break, 12-10. Ilie will play Petr Korda in the second round.

In the quarter-finals, Moya will play his fellow countryman Felix Mantilla, the runner-up to Corretja here last year and winner of the Samsung Open at Bournemouth in September. Mantilla defeated Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, 7-6, 6-3, in the opening match on the Centre Court.

Results, Digest, page 29