Tennis: Rusedski reveals touch of Laver

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The Independent Online
Everything is on the rise at Flushing Meadow, not least Greg Rusedski, who yesterday celebrated his climb to No 20 in the world and No 1 in Britain by winning a match for the first time at the United States Open.

Having supplanting Tim Henman as Britain's top player, the Canadian-born Rusedski gave a dazzling performance in defeating the American David Wheaten, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 on No 3 Court.

Everybody in the sport is aware of Rusedski's bazooka serve (as a reminder, he clinched the opening set with a 139 mph ace), and now he has started hitting his suspect backhand with a control and timing worthy of Rod Laver.

Wheaton, who won the $2m (pounds 1.3m) prize at the Compaq Grand Slam Cup in 1991 after reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon, has slipped out of contention in major championships in recent years, partly because of long-term injury problems.

The 28-year-old from Minneapolis is currently ranked No 121, having enjoyed improved health and form of late. Yesterday he had no answer to Rusedski's all-round superiority. Wheaton said: "I thought he played extremely sharp. I didn't even come close to playing at the top of my game. That's why it was kind of a mismatch today."

Rusedski, who considered that his game did not quite equal the level of his first set against Pete Sampras in San Jose in February, was none the less delighted with his performance. "I finally got to win here," he beamed. "It's only taken me four years." He now meets Marcos Ondruska of South Africa, who beat France's Fabrice Santoro in five sets.

Henman, one place below Rusedski at No 21, acknowledged his rival's progress. "He deserves to take over as No 1 the way he has been playing in the last few weeks," Henman said. "He has been playing very well, and it's good for both of us. Hopefully, we can push each other higher and higher."

The fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic, a potential third round opponent for Rusedski, was eliminated, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, 7-6, by Romania's Dinu Pescariu, ranked No 91. Ivanisevic, defeated by Sampras in the semi-finals last year, has lost in the first round here three times in the past four years.

Pescariu, who lost to Ivanisevic in the first round at Wimbledon, advances to the second round of a tournament for only the second time this year.

Todd Martin continued his rehabilitation after injury by defeating his American compatriot Jim Courier, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Big names may come and go, but the first winner in the $254m Arthur Ashe Stadium here was... Tamarine Tanasugarn. The 20-year-old from Thailand, ranked No 41 in the world, swept past the American Chanda Rubin, 6-4, 6-0, in 53 minutes.

Tanasugarn did not stand on ceremony, chiefly because there was no ceremony. The pomp of inauguration had been reserved for the night session, when Whitney Houston was scheduled to exercise her lungs after a parade of former champions.

When play began at 11 am there was barely a quorum in the 23,000 seat stadium, hardly a soul experiencing vertigo in the upper tier.

Rubin, noted for her tenacity in winning marathon matches until her progress was hampered by a wrist injury, which put her out of the game for 10 months last year, never looked secure, even when leading 4-2 in the opening set. The 21-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, lost the next 10 games and has now been eliminated in the first round of four of her last five tournaments.

It was of little consolation for the earlybird spectators that the Stadium's first winner was born in America. "At that time my dad worked in California," Tanasugarn said. "When I was five I moved back to Thailand."

Enter the 17-year-old Venus Williams to make a bigger impact for the host nation, recovering from the frustration of losing a tight first set against Larisa Neiland, of Latvia, to advance to the second round, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1.

Playing two against one appears to be the latest ploy designed to curtail the 16-year-old Martina Hingis' haul of major titles. It transpires that the world No 1's first round opponent today is pregnant.

"This will be my last tournament," confirmed Tami Whitlinger-Jones, a 28-year-old who lives in San Diego with her husband, the doubles specialist Kelly Jones. "If she feels lightheaded, she'll have to stop," said her coach, Angel Lopez.

Currently ranked No 103 in the world, Tami Whitlinger won the US Open junior singles title in 1986. She will not lack support. "Her whole family is coming, so she's got nothing to lose," Lopez said. "She'll have fun and try to beat her."

Mr and Mrs Jones are seeking a wild card for the mixed doubles, which would be the first time they have played on the same side of the court as professionals. But will their opponents object to three against two?