Tennis: Rusedski shows off his resilience in Paris match

Ten command performances that lit up 1998
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The Independent Online
THE CENTRE court at the All England Club is adorned with ampelopsis creeper, whereas the sloping outer walls of the Palais Omnisports in the Bercy district of Paris are decorated with strips of turf, creating the impression of a Wimbledon bunker.

It was there in November that Greg Rusedski shed the frustration that had gnawed at him since a painful episode in June by outplaying Pete Sampras, who was en route to finishing the season as the world No 1 for a record sixth consecutive year.

Rusedski's triumph in straight sets against Sampras in the final of the $2.55m (pounds 1.55m) Paris Open made him the first British player to win one of the ATP Tour's Super 9 events, which are ranked second only to the four Grand Slams. The only other Briton to have beaten Sampras was Jeremy Bates, when the American was a callow 17-year-old in his first season on the professional circuit, showing only a glimmer of his potential to win 11 Grand Slam singles titles.

Five months earlier, when Sampras was in the process of winning his fifth Wimbledon singles title, Rusedski had been unable to complete a first- round match against Australia's Mark Draper because of an ankle injury suffered while competing at the Queen's Club in London a fortnight before. On leaving Wimbledon, Rusedski did not play again for two months.

Prior to the indoor contest in Paris, Sampras had won his six previous matches against Rusedski. The first was at Wimbledon in 1995, shortly after the Canadian-born Rusedski pledged himself to the British cause, bringing with him lots of ambition, a big heart, a mighty left-handed serve and groundstrokes that tended to be as wide as his smile.

By the time he met Sampras for the seventh time, Rusedski was able to play the the most impressive tennis of his career to win 6-4, 7-6, 6-3, after an hour and 44 minutes. He complemented the power of his serve-volley game with confident returns and blistering groundstrokes, particularly on the backhand, and showed admirable resilience when the going became bumpy in the second set.

Rusedski, having saved four break points in the second game of the second set, was unable to deny Sampras in the sixth game, netting a volley after the American returned a second serve. But Sampras, the defending champion, proved fallible when serving for the set at 5-4, twice double-faulting, crucially on break point. Rusedski won the tie-break, 7-4, and took a 3-0 lead in the third set before Sampras won another game.

The measure of Rusedski's victory, aside from a cheque for $393,000, was calculated by his opponent. "He's been hot all week and has pretty much kicked everybody's butt," Sampras said. "This match was pivotal. It really would have put me ahead by quite a bit."

At the time, Sampras needed every ranking point that he could lay a racket on to prevent the Chilean Marcelo Rios from ruining his chances of moving ahead of Jimmy Connors, with whom he shared the record of finishing as the world No 1 for five years in a row. In the event, Sampras would have to wait only a few more weeks before the record was his.

Rusedski, however, was left dreaming of a time when he may still become the world No 1: "If I play like I did today."