Tennis: Rusedski runs out of gas

From the standpoint of British tennis, it matters less where Greg Rusedski came from than where he is going... the United States Open singles final a week ago, the world's top 10 tomorrow. Fatigue, and the superior play of the top-seeded Carlos Moya, curtailed Rusedski's progress yesterday in the semi-finals of the Samsung Open, by which time he had already flogged himself into the history books.

It is the first time Britain has been able to boast a representative in the top 10 of the men's rankings since the ATP computer was brought into the sport in 1973. To put the situation in perspective, Rusedski's recent climb has coincided with Andre Agassi's decline. The 1992 Wimbledon champion and a former world No 1, has dropped out of the top 100.

Rusedski, though wearied by his heroics at the US Open, pushed himself hard in Bournemouth but was unable to withstand the precision of Moya's strokes. The world No 5 won 6-2 6-2 in only 49 minutes and now plays his Spanish compatriot, Felix Mantilla, who defeated Marcos Ondruska, of South Africa, 6-7 6-1 6-1.

Canadian-born, raised and nurtured as a player, the 24-year-old Rusedski has served the Lawn Tennis Association mightly since delivering his British passport, courtesy of his mother, to Barons Court in 1995.

Rusedski's arrival initially bought time for Oxford's Tim Henman, who is a year younger than his rival, to develop his talent. Since then the pair have changed places in the rankings, each spurring the other. As a result, the nation has two men in the world's top 20.

Yesterday, while Rusedski was preparing to play Moya at the West Hants Club, Henman was 3,250 miles away in Tashkent, reaching his fourth final of the year. Having elected to compete on medium-paced concrete courts rather than the slow green clay of Bournemouth, Henman defeated Francisco Clavet, of Spain, 6-3 7-5.

In today's final - his fourth of the year - Henman, the No 2 seed, plays Marc Rosset, who eliminated Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the top seed, 3-6 7-6 6-2. "Although I say it myself, I served great," Henman said. "I was able to produce the big one when I needed to. My form has been getting better as the week has gone on." Henman lost to Rosset in his last final, in Antwerp in February.

Rusedski's next event will be the $6m Compaq Grand Slam Cup in Munich, which starts on Tuesday week. Henman has accepted a wild card into an ATP Tour event on an indoor hard court in Toulouse the same week.

Three weeks ago, Rusedski and Henman were in New York, preparing to compete at the US Open. Henman produced an upset, eliminating Thomas Muster in the opening round, Rusedski astonished everybody by reaching the final. The effect of Rusedski's success on Henman was immediate. "It has given me a kick in the arse, made me raise my standards," he said yesterday.

All being well, the benefits will quickly filter down to the grass roots. A group of schoolchildren leaving their seats each gave a little wave in Rusedski's direction during a changeover in his quarter-final against the Argentinian Lucas Arnold on Friday. Boys playing on the back courts caught the mood. "I'll be Greg," one was heard to say.

Andrew Baker, page 15

Best of British

Leading Britons in the ATP world rankings. Greg Rusedski is the first man from Britain to rank in the world's top ten since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Greg Rusedski No 10 (15 Sept 1997)

Roger Taylor 11 (13 Sept 1973)

Tim Henman 14 (13 Jan 1997)

Mark Cox 14 (2 July 1977)

Buster Mottram 15 (7 Feb 1983)

John Lloyd 21 (23 July 1978)

Colin Dowdeswell 31 (12 Dec 1983)

Jeremy Bates 54 (17 April 1995)

Gerald Battrick 59 (15 Oct 1973)

Graham Stillwell 62 (14 June 1976)

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