Tennis: Rusedski manages to gag Gambill

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The Independent Online
THE ONLY thing wrong with Greg Rusedski's first match at the Nottingham Open was that it was too easy. Well, he put that right yesterday but nearly overdid it to the extent that he was fortunate to survive.

His 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over Jan-Michael Gambill took an hour and two minutes longer than his 37-minute demolition of Gianluca Pozzi on Monday and the time lag amply demonstrated the difference in Rusedski's performance. If he plays like this at Wimbledon he will be fortunate to win a match, never mind overcome Pete Sampras in their possible quarter-final.

"It's nice to come through when you're not playing well and your opponent is," Rusedski, the top seed, said. "On grass it comes down to one or two points sometimes and those who have the nerve win those points.

"You don't worry about your form if you're winning matches. Whichever tournament you play in you have one match when you're not so sharp, but if you come through on those days it gives you real confidence."

As Rusedski stressed, you can never despise a victory, although he must have been concerned about his groundstrokes, which never flowed. Gambill defeated Sampras and Andre Agassi on the way to winning at Scottsdale in March and has a big serve, so he is no mug. But when you are ranked 13th in the world and are the ninth seed at Wimbledon, you should at least expect to be delivering some passing shots.

Instead it took Rusedski a set and a half to really get going, and then only after three successive double-faults almost handed his 50th-ranked American opponent another service break. The normally undemonstrative British No 2 flung his racket to the court in frustration and as he did, the cathartic response was to raise his game from the ground.

He escaped that crisis and then broke Gambill in the 10th game, at last finding some timing. The American was so shocked to find Rusedski at break point and the ball being returned that he double-faulted to surrender the set.

The decider was similar. Serves dominated, but when Rusedski exerted some pressure on Gambill's serve the American crumpled and, with only the fourth break point, the match was won. His next opponent is Lleyton Hewitt, the 18-year-old Australian who took Sampras to three sets in the semi-finals at Queen's Club last week.

"It'll be an entirely different match," Rusedski said. "Lleyton has a fabulous return and hits his ground shots exceptionally well. I'm not going to have someone serving big at me but he does move well at the back of the court."

Rusedski's victory maintained British interest as Luke Milligan was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Fabrice Santoro. The British No 6 defeated Byron Black in the first round but never threatened Santoro, to the extent that the Frenchman lost only 10 points on his serve. Milligan's Wimbledon hopes were not enhanced either - he will meet Santoro again in the first round.

That was one win for France on a day their second seed had to withdraw. Jerome Golmard pulled out of his match with Spain's Alberto Martin with a knee injury and is doubtful for Wimbledon next week.

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