Tennis: Rusedski races in to beat the rain

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The Independent Online
GREG RUSEDSKI, whose Wimbledon build-up was disrupted by a surprise elimination at Queen's Club last week, restored his preparations to a more desirable level yesterday when he raced into the second round of the Nottingham Open. Quick? He went through with almost indecent haste.

Having been delayed until nearly 6pm by the rain, he vented his bored frustration on the hapless Italian Gianluca Pozzi who, as the oldest man in the men's top 100, simply did not have the weapons to temper the power being launched at him. The scoreline, 6-0, 6-0, reflected the mismatch.

The first set was over in 13 minutes of scorching shots. Pozzi will be 34 on Thursday and he must have wondered if age was withering his eyesight because he gave very little indication that he was reading the Rusedski serve. Bang, and the ball was beyond him or finding parts of the racket the Italian would prefer not to introduce to the ball. He lost his first service game to 15 - and that was one of the closer ones - and by end had accumulated only 22 points in total, so it was just as well Rusedski lost his concentration in the second set or the outcome might have been embarrassing. Instead the match dragged on for a whole 37 minutes.

The only problem for the British No 2, who yesterday learned he will be the ninth seed at Wimbledon next week, was that Pozzi gave him virtually no practice at all, and as soon as he came off court he underwent a work- out. It can safely be assumed that was more onerous than the match.

Rusedski was lightning quick, which was in contrast to a day that was stretched towards the tedious by the weather. It seems they need only to throw up a net at the City of Nottingham Tennis Centre and it begins to rain, and two years ago the tournament was so plagued Rusedski had to win it indoors. Twelve months ago the dominant memory was of dripping covers on the Centre Court.

Rain stopped play twice yesterday, delaying and then interrupting a silver- lined cloudy day for Luke Milligan. The British No 6 is only 314 in the world but he disposed of Byron Black, who is 273 places up the ladder, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Statistically it was the finest win of his career. Milligan, 22, is a novelty on the ATP Tour if only for his musical taste, which is more Sixties than contemporary. Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin are his choice but it was Black, the finalist here last year and the No 6 seed, who was dazed and confused by a low-ranked Brit who was not cannon fodder.

Recommencing at 1-1 in the deciding set, it was Milligan who came out blazing. "I felt comfortable going out for the second time," he said. "I don't know why, sometimes you just throw the ball up in the air and it works."

Milligan struck first, breaking Black to go 4-2 ahead and then finishing off his Zimbabwean opponent two games later when he converted his fourth match point. "He's the highest ranking guy I've ever beaten," he said. "I've been playing well but because it's been in smaller tournaments no- one has noticed."

Milligan has won two Futures Tour tournaments in recent weeks and sounded confident enough to suggest he could repeat his 1996 Wimbledon when he reached the third round. "Obviously if you're on Centre Court on the opening Monday you've got problems," he said, "but I'm playing well enough."

Byron's brother, Wayne, salvaged some family pride as he removed the British No 4 Barry Cowan 6-3, 6-3.

n Karol Kucera started his Wimbledon warm up with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Peter Wessels yesterday in the Heineken Trophy in Den Bosch, Netherlands.