Tennis: Rusedski left to rue lost opportunities

AS ONE door opened, another one closed. No sooner had Tim Henman ended his sequence of four first-round defeats than Greg Rusedski, the fourth seed and world No 5, dropped out of the Guardian Direct Cup in Battersea Park in his first match since winning the European Community Championship in Antwerp on Sunday. We should take his defeat last night by Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner as a blip, particularly as Rusedski had two match points in the second set.

It was an extraordinary performance from the British No 1, part mighty serving and energetic retrieving, part almost weary acceptance that this was not going to be his night. He served the 33 aces and 15 double faults, a mixture which gave his opponent sufficient breathing space to chisel out a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win after an hour and 41 minutes.

Goellner, ranked No 68 in the world, is best remembered for an explosive week on clay in Nice in 1993 when, as a qualifier, he demolished two former world No 1s, Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg, to win his first ATP Tour title.

Edberg's coach, of course, was Nottingham's Tony Pickard, who took charge of Rusedski's preparations after the Canadian-born left-hander had reached the final of the United States Open last September. Only the other day, after arriving from their success in Antwerp, Pickard made the point that no player can be expected to win every match. That was said in reference to Henman and the British No 2's recent slump. The irony for the promoters is that Rusedski was in line to play Lincolnshire's Andrew Richardson in the second round this afternoon. Richardson defeated the Swiss Marc Rosset, who retired ill in the second set of their first-round match yesterday.

The outcome of Rusedski's match with Goellner seemed unlikely, although the observers perhaps failed to read the omens when the Briton was unable to convert any of five break points as early as the second game. Goellner, to his credit, saved three of these, but twice Rusedski mis-hit his backhands. Rusedski saved three break points himself in the 11th game and then cracked his opponent on his first set point, luring Goellner to miss a forehand volley after 38 minutes.

The conclusion of the set was rather surprising, since Goellner had served almost flawlessly after the second game. Rusedski was given a warning for time wasting during the ninth game of the second set. His response was a serve propelled in anger, which Goellner did well to lay his racket on and the speed gun registered 142mph, only one mile per hour less than Rusedski's world record.

Rusedski proceeded to attack Goellner's serve and created his two match points with a forehand cross-court pass from a second serve at 5-4. Goellner wrong-footed him with a forehand volley to save the first, and Rusedski netted a forehand rather tamely to lose the second. Goellner's response was to break him in the next game, producing a backhand pass from a second serve after Rusedski had directed a backhand over the baseline.

The final set appeared to be running away from Rusedski, who was broken in the opening game after double faulting to offer Goellner the opportunity, but Rusedski broke back immediately, with a lob and forehand volley. It was Goellner, however, who served the steadier and the German made the decisive break for 5-4, returning one of his opponent's tamer serves, which led to Rusedski netting a low forehand volley.

Richardson, a wild card entry, led Rosset by 6-3, 2-1 when the Swiss retired complaining of a viral infection.

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