Tennis: Rusedski's one step back to win

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GREG RUSEDSKI won only his second match of the year last night, defeating the Dutch No 2, Sjeng Schalken, 6-4, 6-3, in the opening round of the $1m (pounds 600,000) Dubai Duty Free Open.

Having arrived here last Wednesday intent on ridding himself of the early- season tautness that cost him dearly at the Australian Open, where he lost in the second round to Paul Goldstein, an American qualifier, Rusedski, the No 4 seed, slowly began to build his confidence. He achieved this in spite of several tentative games in which either his first serve deserted him or his returns were uncertain.

Schalken, ranked No 45 in the world and second to Richard Krajicek in the Netherlands, won an ATP Tour event in Auckland last month and was primed to test the British No 2.

Although Rusedski broke for 3-2 in the first set, his erratic serving beckoned Schalken into the contest, a double-fault deciding the third game. Rusedski was foot-faulted on his first serve, and that happened on three other occasions. "Sometimes they call foot-faults and sometimes they don't," Rusedski said. "Once I took a step back everything was fine."

Rusedski broke again for 4-3 and took the set on his third set point. He survived three double-faults to save a break point in the fourth game of the second set and then broke for 3-2 after winning a lengthy rally.

"It was a difficult match, but after the first set I was pretty much in control," Rusedski said, making light of the fact that he was wearing a support for his lower back. "Everything's perfect. Everything's strong. It [the back support] was just for comfort, that's all."

Petr Korda has his sights on Battersea Park on Monday week and does not rule out a return to Wimbledon - where he failed a drugs test last summer - but the Czech left-hander hinted yesterday that his career may not last much longer, whether or not the International Tennis Federation succeeds in reviving the possibility of a one-year ban.

"The [legal] thing is completely in the hands of my lawyers," the 31- year-old Korda reiterated after defeating Alberto Martin, from Spain, 6-3, 6-4, in the first round here. "I'm focusing on my game every time I wake up in the morning. You can't take on everything."

Korda doubts that he will play at the United States Open in September, when his older daughter, Jessica, is due to start school in Prague, and emphasised that he intends to put his family before his tennis.

"I always was a person who liked a challenge and liked to compete," Korda said. "I am not going to change my attitude [where that is concerned]. Obviously [what has happened] has changed me. I am not saying I am better, or that I am a bad boy, but I will always get my strength from my family. They will be my priority. I might change my schedule for my family's needs, maybe after Key Biscayne [in March], maybe later."

Korda would first like to raise the level of his game and his world ranking. This time last year he was the Australian Open champion and world No 2. Since testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone after losing to Tim Henman in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, his form has slumped. Docked his Wimbledon points, he subsequently failed to match last year's victories in Qatar and at the Australian Open, and his ranking is down to No 76.

"That's the reality," Korda said. "It's up to me. I have the tennis in my hands. I have a chance to improve my ranking. I don't have a lot of points to defend until after the French Open [in May]. I'm starting to play better and better. What I need right now is to play as many matches as I can to raise my level."

He was not impressed by the Czech Tennis Federation's announcement last week that it had banned him for a year. "If they want to ban you, they should invite you to some sort of hearing," Korda said. "I found out what had been decided by e-mail."