Tennis: Rusedski prepared for twist of fate

Rigorous examination of form and fitness awaits Britain's No 1 tennis player at US Open.
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The Independent Online
OLLIE KAYE, of Puddington, Wirral, will today discover that he is the owner of the shirt Greg Rusedski wore for the men's singles final at last year's United States Open, autographed, framed, and complete with the black ribbon in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Olly's success is down to the luck of the draw, although he did have to qualify by answering correctly the following question set by Ace magazine (Rusedski is the "coaching editor"): Before Rusedski, who was the last British man to reach the final of a Grand Slam singles event, John Lloyd, Fred Perry or Bunny Austin?*

Tricky enough, but not as difficult as the questions to which Rusedski's fitness and form are likely to be subjected on the left-hander's return to the scene of his most impressive performance, Flushing Meadows, New York, for this year's US Open, which starts next Monday.

Seeded No 6 yesterday, in accordance with his world ranking, Rusedski has to defend 653 computer points gained during his advance to last year's final, in which he was defeated by Australia's Pat Rafter, 6-3, 6-2, 4- 6, 7-5. Within days of leaving New York, Rusedski became the first Briton to break into the men's top 10 since the ATP Tour rankings began in 1973.

All year those points have served as a warning as well as an inspiration for Rusedski, whose ranking would slide should he lose in the early rounds at Flushing Meadows. And more than the ambition of an individual is in the balance. A buoyant Rusedski is essential to the nation's cause in the endeavour to rejoin the elite 16 in the World Group of the Davis Cup next year by defeating India in a promotion play-off at Nottingham less than two weeks after the US Open.

Rusedski's season literally took a turn for the worse in June when he twisted his left ankle during the Stella Artois Championships, partially tearing a ligament. The injury ruined his prospects of success at Wimbledon. Although Rusedski decided to play, he was unable to complete a first- round match. Moreover, the British No 1's secretive behaviour following the injury caused a rift with his coach, Tony Pickard, who ended their association.

The irony of this was that Rusedski parted from his previous coach, the Californian Brian Teacher, immediately after last year's US Open, having astonished many observers with the improvement in his groundstrokes, particularly the backhand, and his return of serve.

When asked at Wimbledon if he had any thoughts concerning a replacement for Pickard, Rusedski said he was not worried about it: "The coach can help, but it's the player at the end of the day." While this might have been construed as a slight, it was a statement of fact. Most players would acknowledge that, even those with a less positive attitude than Rusedski.

Tim Henman, the British No 2, has made similar comments with regard to his coach, David Felgate: "David helps me, but I do the winning and also I do the losing." Henman, defeated in the Wimbledon semi-finals by Pete Sampras, the maestro, spent last week in the top 10 for the first time before dropping to No 13 on Monday, in spite of reaching the quarter- finals in New Haven. Henman is seeded No 13 for the US Open.

Rusedski's latest helper is Sven Groeneveld, a Dutchman who is based in Knightsbridge. Groeneveld came to prominence as a coach while working at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. Best known for guiding Mary Pierce towards the 1995 Australian Open title, Groeneveld has also been employed by Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, and Mary Joe Fernandez. The Dutchman spent a year in charge of the Swiss Tennis Federation's "elite squad" of young players.

Almost two months after his Wimbledon disappointment, Rusedski returned to the courts in promising fashion last week in Indianapolis, defeating Sweden's Magnus Larsson en route to the quarter-finals, where he lost to Alex Corretja (the Spaniard went on to beat Andre Agassi in the final).

"The ankle is fine," Rusedski said on Monday after defeating Sweden's Magnus Norman in the opening round of the Hamlet Cup at Long Island. "There was a big improvement from last week. My volley is better and I have changed my footwork a little. I need as many matches as possible," he added while preparing to play the Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, ranked No 48, in the second round.

Rusedski and Henman are both due to mark their birthdays on 6 September, the middle Sunday at the US Open. Rusedski will be 25, Henman 24. Both would wish to celebrate by staying on course for the final weekend. Like Ollie Kaye, they need the luck of the draw.

John Lloyd was the runner-up to Vitas Gerulaitis at the 1977 Australian Open.

MEN

1 Pete Sampras (US)

2 Marcelo Rios (Chile)

3 Patrick Rafter (Aus)

4 Petr Korda (Cz Rep)

5 Richard Krajicek (Neth)

6 Greg Rusedski (GB)

7 Alex Corretja (Sp)

8 Andre Agassi (US)

9 Karol Kucera (Slovak)

10 Carlos Moya (Sp)

11 Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus)

12 Jonas Bjorkman (Swe)

13 Tim Henman (GB)

14 Goran Ivanisevic (Cro)

15 Alberto Berasategui (Sp)

16 Albert Costa (Sp)

WOMEN

1 Martina Hingis (Swit)

2 Lindsay Davenport (US)

3 Jana Novotna (Cz Rep)

4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (Sp)

5 Venus Williams (US)

6 Monica Seles (US)

7 Conchita Martinez (Sp)

8 Steffi Graf (Ger)

9 Irina Spirlea (Rom)

10 Nathalie Tauziat (Fr)

11 Patty Schnyder (Swit)

12 Mary Pierce (Fr)

13 Amanda Coetzer (SA)

14 Dominique van Roost (Bel)

15 Anna Kournikova (Rus)

16 Ai Sugiyama (Japan)

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