Tennis: Rusedski misses his chances

Tennis
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The Independent Online
It could be argued that Britain made a reasonable start to the men's championships at the Italian Open yesterday, given that the condition of Greg Rusedski's wrist was the chief concern.

Rusedski, although defeated by Albert Portas, a Spanish qualifier, 7- 6, 7-6, at least had the consolation of experiencing no physical pain. All being well, he will have future opportunities to advance beyond the opening round.

Likewise, we should be grateful at this stage if Tim Henman's elbow proves equal to the test today, regardless of the outcome of his first match for two months. He, too, plays a Spaniard, and the British No 14 seed is well aware that Roberto Carretero is far more dangerous on clay courts than a current world ranking of No 334 suggests.

Rusedski, playing for the first time since retiring hurt during the St Petersburg tournament in March, was disappointed that his form wavered each time he was on the point of taking control.

After breaking for 5-3, he lost his serve to love when the opening set beckoned and was then unable to convert a set point in the tie-break, at 7-6, stretching to make a volley which flew over the baseline. To compound matters, Rusedski hit a smash into the net from close range for 7-9 on Portas's third set point.

The Spaniard saved two break points at 4-4 in the second set, going on to win the tie-break, 7-4, after Rusedski had recovered from 2-4. "I was pleased with the way I served [he delivered 14 aces], but the big points were terrible,'' Rusedski said. "Usually I fancy myself in two tie-break sets.''

Portas, at No 67 ranked 28 places below Rusedski, frequently picked off his opponent's rushes to the net. As Rusedski pointed out, Portas recently had a run of 19 wins on clay, including victories against Marcelo Rios and Alberto Berasategui.

As a reward for his efforts, Portas will play the winner of today's contest between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. While Portas and Rusedski duelled on No 2 Court yesterday, Courier practised on an adjacent court.

It was while playing Sampras in the final of the San Jose event in February that Rusedski had to retire because of the wrist injury. "It would have been nice if I could have got a re-match with Sampras," Rusedski mused.

Rusedksi was not the only mighty server to suffer yesterday. Australia's Mark Philippoussis was eliminated by Karim Alami, of Morocco, 6-2, 6-0 - a far cry from Philppoussis's clay-court triumph in Munich last month. He said at the time that there was no reason why he could not beat anyone he played against, "no matter what surface I play on". Not on this occasion.

Alamiwas the first player to beat Pete Sampras in 1994, when the world No 1 started his year in Doha, Qatar.

Richard Krajicek, the Wimbledon champion, began brightly in spite of the effects of a flu virus. The Dutchman defeated Diego Nargiso, an Italian wild card, 7-5, 6-3.

Thomas Muster, the holder of the Italian title for the past two years, eased past Marzio Martelli, another home player with wild card, 6-3, 6- 2. Muster's win enabled him to balance his clay-court record for the season, 4-4, after a vulnerable start to the campaign on a surface he usually dominates.

"You can't expect me to win every clay court tournament like I have in the last two years," the former world No 1 said. Asked if his sluggish form on clay had been an indirect result of his success on concrete courts earlier in the year, with tournament wins in Dubai and Key Biscayne, he paused before saying, "Maybe it's a question of motivation.''

With the French Open less than a fortnight away, Muster is the last player one would expect to need a kick-start.

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