Tennis: Rusedski serves up some power play

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A FAMILIAR face in the umpire's chair did not put Greg Rusedski off his stroke yesterday as the British No 2 swept into the last 16 of the Lipton Championships here with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Germany's Hendrik Dreekmann.

Norm Chryst, it may be remembered, was the official who rushed to Rusedski's aid after the big-serving left-hander fell and damaged his ankle at Queen's Club two weeks before Wimbledon last June. The injury prevented Rusedski from making a serious challenge at the All England Club and put a severe dent in his season.

Yesterday, apart from one or two quizzical glances at the umpire over dubious line calls, Rusedski hardly put a foot wrong on No 2 Court here. He served brilliantly, nine aces merely underlining the efficiency of a performance in which he conceeded more than one point in only one of his 10 service games. The odd game out was the last, in which Rusedski had to save a break point after leading 30-0. Dreekmann, who defeated Rusedski in straight sets at the United States Open in 1996, was unable to extend the world No 13 to a third set here, hitting a backhand return over the baseline off a second serve as the match concluded after 62 minutes.

Rusedski now plays Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, who defeated Pat Rafter, 7-6, 6-4. Rafter, it will be remembered, defeated Rusedski in the final of the 1997 US Open.

Tim Henman, a semi-finalist here last year, was defeated by the Frenchman Jerome Golmard, 6-4, 7-6. Golmard has been a pain to the British No 1, having eliminated him in the first round of the 1998 Australian Open, 11-9 in the fifth set, and in the quarter-finals in Dubai last month. Henman's ranking at No 6 in the world is in jeopardy with so many points down the drain here.

Such was Rusedski's domination of Dreekmann that most of the noise emanated from the nearby No 1 Court, where Alex Corretja, the No 4 seed, struggled to contain Paraguay's Ramon Delgado. Corretja avoided joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic on the sidelines.

Discord continues to blight the Americans, who are due to announce their Davis Cup squad today for the first round tie against Britain at Easter. The latest rift concerns the United States Tennis Association's decision to dispense with the team's doctor, George Fareed.

Agassi's response was to vow that he would never play in the Davis Cup again, having already declared himself unavailable for the match in Birmingham, along with Pete Sampras. "They just fired George Fareed," Agassi said, breaking the news to the American media, "that's the last straw for me."

George Fareed had been the team's doctor for eight years, succeeding his late father, Omar, whose respected courtside manner dated back to the old professional tour, where his medical expertise enabled the likes of Pancho Gonzales and Jack Kramer to play matches night after night.

"Good old Omar, God rest his soul, was there for the team on every level," Agassi said. "George came in and did the exact same thing. The players loved him. He goes to the wall for you during Davis Cup weeks, and away from Davis Cup weeks. [The USTA's decision] is just another example of how players aren't consulted about anything that happens. I didn't hear about it till last week. I'm done with Davis Cup."

Rick Ferman, the USTA's executive director, said Agassi's statement that the doctor was fired was "grossly overstated", explaining Fareed was a victim of new standards the USTA is about to implement regarding medical staff. The requirements include board certificates in specific areas; completion of fellowship training; and significant experience dealing with professional tennis players.

Agassi said the USTA president, Judy Levering, had called his office to tell him about the Fareed decision. "She said that they have some concerns about him. That was it. Some legalities. Find out from them. They'll explain it better, I'm sure."

Ferman said: "Dr Fareed's service level was top notch, but his credentials do not match up to our requirements." He added that a new team doctor is due to be appointed this week.

Sampras was "shocked" to hear that Fareed had lost his job. "I've known George for many years. He's one of the nicest people I've met in tennis. It's not really my business who should be the doctor. I give my input. I like George. He seemed very knowledgeable."

Jim Courier, one of the players expected to fill the void Sampras and Agassi have left in the squad for Birmingham, said: "I don't know enough about [the situation] at the moment to make a comment, other than to say I think we all loved Doc Fareed and we'll certainly miss him dearly. I'll want to know why [it happened] and try to understand it, because he's been such an integral part of our team."

Agassi, aged 28 and ranked No 9, was unable to suppress the promising Slovak, Dominik Hrbaty, and slipped out in the second round with the deflation of two consecutive double-faults.

Tom Gullikson, the United States Davis Cup captain, intends to speak with Agassi in the hope that he will change his mind about playing in the Davis Cup in the future. "Never is a strong word," Gullikson said. "Maybe, hopefully, it's a reaction to the loss [to Hrbaty]."