Tennis: Rusedski makes gale-force start

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THE HAPLESS Gianluca Pozzi, who may have imagined that Monday's gale was well and truly spent, was blown off the court by Greg Rusedski last night. The British No 2 required only 43 minutes to advance to the second round of the pounds 510,000 Guardian Direct Cup, 6-2, 6-1.

Rusedski, who conceded only seven points on his serve to the 33-year- old Italian (two of them double-faults), next plays another fellow left- hander, Petr Korda, who is wryly described as "an unbanned substance" in the latest edition of Tennis World.

The 31-year-old Czech continued to ply his trade yesterday, winning his first match in London since testing positive for the steroid nandrolone at Wimbledon last summer. In fact Korda achieved his best win of the year so far, defeating the South African Wayne Ferreira, 6-3, 6-4.

Rusedski, who practised with Korda on Sunday, is looking forward to their match, declaring the drugs issue to be "completely finished in my view - it's just going to be one tennis player against another."

Korda's lawyers are due in the Court of Appeal in London next month, when the International Tennis Federation will challenge a High Court judge's ruling preventing them from taking Korda to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. But as far as Rusedski is concerned, "There's no more to be said and no more to be done. I think things have moved on."

The Czech will be pleased to know that. Describing the moment he was told last July that he had tested positive as a "shock to my tennis" (ranked No 3 at the time, he has since won only six of 23 matches), Korda said playing through to the end of last season in the knowledge that his appeal was due to be heard by an ITF panel was "the hardest thing".

He added that he "was realistic" when returning to Australia in January to defend his title (he lost to Todd Martin in the third round). "I knew the first few months were going to be as tough as hell," he said. "I knew I would would get the media attention, which I am not really used to, and I knew that it was going to be tough on the court."

As for the reaction of his fellow players, Korda said there was "no problem at all, nobody was going after me". Jim Courier, the American former world No 1, had expressed his point of view personally, Korda said, adding that he disregarded comments that players had made to newspapers, including remarks by Rusedski.

"I am not counting any person who is critical behind my back," Korda said. "He is not challenging me unless he talks to me. He cannot laugh at me, and be nice. If he wants to say something, I'm here. I can come and really talk to him any time. Whatever he said in the newspapers, I am the person who is cleaning in front of my house. I don't think Greg or anyone else has a right to clean my house.

"First of all, Greg doesn't know the rules well and doesn't know the case. Once it is over, maybe it is going to be [explained] in the media, maybe it is going to be different. I am not ever going to be offensive to anyone. What happened, happened, and if somebody is critical in the papers, what can I do? Everybody has the right to express themselves."

Korda's confidence grew yesterday to the point where he delivered four aces in his penultimate service game. The only mishap came early in the second set when the umpire, Mike Morrissey, was stung by a wasp and the trainer was called to treat him.

A year ago Korda was ranked No 2 in the world after winning the Australian Open and had opportunities to overtake Pete Sampras at the head of the game. This week his ranking has dropped to No 75, only two places above the semi-retired Boris Becker.

As if to underline the opportunity Korda missed, Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the newly crowned Australian Open champion and current world No 2, is within two wins of supplanting Sampras. Kafelnikov, who needs to advance to the semi-finals here, won his opening match against Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson yesterday, 6-2, 6-3.

Asked if he believed he could take the decisive step to the top which eluded Korda, Kafelnikov said: "I think Korda felt too much pressure. He couldn't help it. He was over-emotional. Right now I feel different. And, to be honest, if it doesn't happen this week I think it's going to happen anyway."

Kafelnikov said there was more interest in Russia at the moment in his challenge to become the nation's first world No 1 tennis player than there was in football. "When I call home, I'm told I'm getting a lot of television time. All the people seem to be following my results."

n There was a minute's silence at the Battersea tournament yesterday in memory of the Dutch player Menno Oosting, who was killed in a car crash on Monday night while returning home from a tournament in Cherbourg, France. Oosting, 34, was ranked a career-best No 72 in the world singles in 1988, and No 20 in doubles in 1995.