Tennis: Rusedski's agony and acrimony

Ronald Atkin hears Tony Pickard explain why he walked out on his star client

A TENNIS player being sacked by his or her coach is not a common occurrence. In fact, only two come to mind. One was when Nick Bollettieri decided he did not want to work with Andre Agassi any more and sent him a letter saying so.

Nick must have posted it second class, since the media - and then, inevitably, Andre - found out before the letter arrived.

The other was Tony Pickard's way of telling Greg Rusedski they were no longer an item. "I sat him down in the Wimbledon locker-room on Wednesday and told him it was over. He had no idea. He was a bit stunned." Rusedski was not stunned for too long. Vindictiveness rapidly set in when he told a media conference that this showed Pickard's "true colours". It was unfortunate that Greg's clear bitterness and attempt to present himself as the wronged party were undermined by the fact that he was wearing a rather silly black hat bearing his sponsor's logo.

The "true colours" jibe bothered Pickard no more than his dramatic loss of someone to coach. "I am a pro and I'm English and I'm proud to show my colours," he smiled before going to lunch with friends in Wimbledon's Members' Enclosure on Friday. Pickard would protest that there was no disguised insult in this riposte to someone who was born in Montreal and who adopted Britain as his playing nation three years ago, but there will be plenty of people who will look at it that way, and say it serves Rusedski right for coming out with a comment as silly as his hat.

After losing contact with his injured player when Rusedski took off to Istanbul for a couple of days with the Iranian-born, Dutch-trained physiotherapist Reza Daneshmand, in whom he has a touching faith and who was treating his damaged ankle, Pickard said he knew he had to act. "He had disappeared, there was no contact. I had no idea where he was. After I made a few phone calls and a few harsh words were said to people supposedly close to him, he called me late on the Friday night before Wimbledon." Pickard confirmed that Rusedski was phoning from abroad but would not reveal from where. "If people are saying Istanbul you haven't heard that from me.

"I don't do things rashly," he said. "I had made up my mind last Saturday what I was going to do, no matter what transpired about his injury. If he had been fit enough I would have patted him on the head and said 'go for it'. But I would still have gone. Either you've got principles or you haven't. Trust and loyalty went out of the window over this business and once that has happened it can happen again. Rusedski's possible loss of face over this is not for me to think about. I am not at war with anybody. I don't fall out with people, I tell them to their face what I think and that's the end of it. If he doesn't want to speak to me again, that's up to him."

Pickard said the reaction to his decision had been very positive. "I have been slapped on the back, people have been saying 'well done'." His own plans are open. "I will enjoy life. To be able to wake up every morning in your own bed after such a long time on the road will be quite a pleasant feeling. I'm not looking for more coaching work. I wasn'twhen Petr Korda came and asked me to be his coach; I wasn't when Rusedski came."

The 63-year-old Pickard, who coached Stefan Edberg to six Grand Slam titles, including two Wimbledons, said that in the nine months he had worked with Rusedski he had seen a big improvement and thought he had done a good job for the player. "You are working for the end product, whether you are working with a mouse or a wolf, you've got to be able to move him in the right direction and you have to be strong to get the best out of people.

"That's what I think I have done. He is a better player now than he was nine months ago, he understands better what is required of him." Pickard feels Rusedski will benefit from the presence of another coach. "All the top players nowadays need somebody to help them along, point them in the right direction. But for him to go even higher than his present world ranking there must be more consistency. It is no good blowing hot one week and cold the next.

"I told him, 'Forget No 1, you've got to be nailing eight tournaments a year'. That's where a big improvement could come in his game. It's like winning Wimbledon. You have to win seven matches in a row and right now he hasn't done that." Pickard praised Rusedski's work ethic and insisted he had found "nothing evil" in what the player had done, but he implied that his judgement could have been better. "He was injured and looking for sympathy, and when that happens you go where you find it. But people were telling him he could do things he had no chance of doing.

"Look at the poor guy the other night. It killed me to sit there and watch that, somebody as good as he is trying to hobble around on one leg. But our parting had nothing to do with his decision to play. He made a decision he believed was the right one for him and it was not a decision I accepted."

Now Pickard, a long-time Nottingham Forest supporter and close friend of Brian Clough, thinks he will need to sort out a season ticket. "It never occurred to me until this week that I might be watching a lot of football over the next few months."

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