Tennis: Rusedski serves up a warning

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The Independent Online
Greg Rusedski served notice that he is ready to challenge the game's top players after beating Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Sybase Open here on Saturday. Rusedski, ranked 39th in the world, was due to meet the world No 1, Pete Sampras, in the final late last night , the American having coolly disposed of Todd Martin 6-2, 6-3 in the other semi-final.

Rusedski's defeat of Agassi followed his straight sets quarter-final victory over the world No 2, Michael Chang, on Friday and as a result his Wimbledon odds have been cut to 40-1 from 80-1. Tim Henman is quoted at 20-1 with Ladbrokes, who offer 14-1 - their shortest-ever odds - on the men's singles being won by a Briton.

Known primarily as the fastest server on the tour, Rusedski said that if he were to beat Sampras it would prove to the world that he is no longer a one-shot wonder. "That would establish me as a true threat to anybody," said Rusedski, who had never won a set from Agassi in their three previous meetings.

In December, Rusedski and his coach, Brian Teacher, spent 27 days in Los Angeles working four hours per session, hitting topspin backhands and return of serves. "We even worked at Christmas," Rusedski said. "And it really paid off."

It was Rusedski's variety on his serve, precise volleying and low backhand slice that broke down Agassi, the No 3 seed.

Rusedski fired 14 aces to Agassi's none and fought off three of Agassi's five break point chances by stubbornly engaging in crosscourt exchanges from the baseline. The British No 2 broke Agassi in the first set at 3- 2 in a 10-ball rally from the baseline and then broke him at 2-2 in the second set with a down-the-line forehand return winner.

"I favour myself indoors against anybody," said Rusedski, who has yet to lose his serve this week. "I rallied well with Andre. He didn't expect my ground game to be so good."

Although Agassi said Rusedski had improved his service, the American is not yet convinced that the Briton has the talent to become an elite player.

"It depends on what he's trying to accomplish," Agassi said. "If you beat a guy like Chang and me back-to-back, sure, that is going to do a lot for your confidence. But it is one thing to win a tournament one week and another to be able to play that well all year. If Brad [Gilbert, Agassi's coach] had served that well, he could win this tournament."

Sampras, the 1996 Australian Open champion, won 78 per cent of the points on his serve, and had Martin tripping over himself in an attempt to read which way he was going.

"I could have done more than I did today," Martin said. "Against Pete, you have to put close to your best foot forward. I could have hit my forehand better, my backhand better, my volleys, my serve, everything but my overhead, but I only had to hit one of those."

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