Tennis: Rusedski punches his weight

Wimbledon 99: Flurry of aces leaves Parmar pinned to the ropes as strong-arm tactics pay off
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The Independent Online
IT WAS puzzling to see no sign of dread in Magnus Norman's eyes when the Swede casually mentioned yesterday that he expected Greg Rusedski to hit 30 or 40 aces past him when they meet in the third round of the Wimbledon men's singles tomorrow.

The first clue came with the reminder that Goran Ivanisevic, another big-serving left-hander, aced Norman 46 times in the second round in 1997, but the Swede survived the blitz and won, 14-12, in the fifth set.

Rusedski completed the picture when, from personal experience, he described the 23-year-old Norman as a player with "a very big serve, and good returns, who hits the ball extremely hard and is really aggressive".

It sounds like a good match, particularly since it will be their first meeting of the year, and the first on grass. Rusedski, the No 9 seed, has defeated Norman twice, both times in straight sets, on medium-paced concrete and a fast carpet, since losing to the Swede on slow clay in the first round of the 1997 French Open, 9-7 in the fifth set.

Neither player has dropped a set so far this week, although both had to play through tie breaks yesterday, Norman in defeating the Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6, and Rusedski in shaking off Arvind Parmar, a fellow Briton, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.

Rusedski's match against Parmar, on Court No 2, was akin to a title contender fighting a sparring partner in a warm-up bout. "It definitely was a little bit like that," Rusedski said. "We've played quite a few sets in practice, so we know what to expect and where the balls are going to be going. I think Arv came out and played very, very well."

Arv? The abbreviation added to the image of a game club fighter being knocked about by Lennox Lewis in a gym. "I haven't hit with [Greg] for a while," Parmar said, "but I knew what to expect. Apart from his serves being a lot better, everything else was pretty much the same."

When Rusedski is serving well, few players are more dangerous on a grass court. "He was serving exceptionally well today," Parmar confirmed. "Even his second serves were very good." Rusedski hit 17 aces during their hour and a half on the court, six of them in a row.

That is not to say Parmar did not give a good account of himself, having worked through the qualifying event at Roehampton last week and recovered from 6-0 in his opening set at the All England Club to overcome the Spaniard Albert Costa in the first round. The tall, skinny 21-year-old from Hitchin, who walked through the Fred Perry Gates with a world ranking of No 455, will leave the tournament with an even stronger desire to work his way up the lower rungs of the ATP Tour circuit to sample more top-level tennis.

Continuing the allusion of facing a sparring partner in serious competition, it is worth examining the number times Parmar was able to counter Rusedski's left-hand lead, which the British No 2 dreams will be his Sunday punch in the final on 4 July.

Rusedski conceded only 11 points on his serve yesterday, and two of those were double-faults. His first four service games were held to love, but Parmar managed to beat him with a backhand volley and a forehand drive as Rusedski served for set at 5-3. Parmar landed five blows against serve in the second set, forcing his opponent to hit a backhand long, beating him with a return, and passing him with backhands on three occasions.

In the third set, Parmar succeeded with a backhand pass down the line on the opening point, was then helped by Rusedski's error in netting a backhand off a return on the second point of the sixth game, and was gifted the two double-faults in the eighth game.

Rusedski took control of the tie-break from 3-1, and secured the shoot- out, 7-3, with a typical serve and backhand volley to the corner of the court.

"Obviously he is a strong favourite for the tournament," Parmar said. "The guy is hitting aces, and you can't do anything about that. You can't even get your racket on the ball. The only way to get back the serve is to try and guess which side he is going, but he mixes it up so well you really don't have any idea where he is going."

After losing the opening two sets, Parmar tried a change of strategy. "I went out there with a bit of a wrong game plan, and I was disappointed with my service game in the first two sets," he said. "I think serve-volleying off both serves worked a little more in my favour."

Rusedski was asked if he was concerned that his game may be peaking too soon. "Not particularly," he said. "If you don't bring out your best form every day, you won't even have a chance of getting to the final Sunday. I think Monday's match [against Australia's Jason Stoltenberg] was very, very good, one of the best matches I've played at Wimbledon. Today's match was very controlled, and very methodical with what I needed to do."

Inevitably, Rusedski, who ignited the British game when he arrived from Canada in 1995 and began a rivalry with Tim Henman which pushed both men into the top 10, was asked why so many players who showed promise in the juniors had difficulty making the transition to the professional circuit.

"I think Arv and Danny Sapsford and Jamie Delgado have done a good job this time, because they went all the way through pre-qualifying, and it makes them stronger, it makes them want it more. Hopefully, players like Arv and Miles Maclagan [who held three match points against Boris Becker on Tuesday], can build on these experiences and not just play extremely well at Wimbledon.

"With the right coaching, and the right people behind them, and the right belief, they can move up in the world rankings and make a positive start from here."

In short, they can start punching their weight.

Wimbledon reports and results, pages 30 and 31

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