Tennis: Wimbledon - Rusedski's ankle gamble leads to limp performance

GREG RUSEDSKI'S determination to chase his Wimbledon dream may have backfired. The British No 1's decision to risk his suspect left ankle certainly appeared misguided when rain caused play to be suspended last night.

Looking less like a fourth seed than a player gone to seed, Rusedski's limping performance against Mark Draper, an Australian qualifier, ranked No 238 in the world, was mercifully interrupted with Draper leading, 4- 6, 6-2, 5-4, and about to serve for the third set. The pity was that Rusedski was on the court in the first place.

His coach, Nottingham's Tony Pickard, encapsulated the general feeling, saying, "It was heart-rendering having to watch him. Two days ago I told him to remember it was one day, one match, one tournament. He should be thinking about the future."

Rusedski, who was defeated by Cedric Pioline in the quarter-finals last year, seemed unlikely to advance even as far as the All England Club's gates this time after partially tearing a ligament in the ankle in a fall while running from the baseline to make a volley during the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club less than two weeks ago.

Following an MRI scan at the Cromwell Hospital, Rusedski's prospects of playing at Wimbledon were described as less than 50 per cent. After daily treatment by his London physiotherapist, Reza Daneshmand, however, the 24-year-old Rusedski informed the Wimbledon referee, Alan Mills, on Sunday that he was fit to play.

The sight of a heavy support on Rusedski's ankle when he made his entrance on Court No 1 last evening prompted many among the spectators to wonder if he would have the mobility to make a match of it. Even while winning the opening set, Rusedski was unable to impose his customary full-blooded serve and volley style.

It was incongruous to see the man with the world's fastest serve failing to follow it to the net on grass, instead staying back hitting groundstrokes from the baseline like a disorientated European clay-courter who had stumbled into SW 19. A colleague described the ankle protector as having the affect of a ball and chain.

During the second set, it appeared that Rusedski had called for the trainer. It transpired that he had merely asked if he could borrow the trainer's scissors to trim the support. "It was not an injury time-out," Bill Gilmour, the supervisor, confirmed.

The match is due to resume today (weather permitting) and is scheduled to follow a women's singles second round contest between Steffi Graf and Henrieta Nagyova, of Slovakia.

It remains to be seen whether an overnight rest will help Rusedski's cause. Even he were to advance to the second round, and a possible match against the powerful, experienced American Todd Martin, it seems doubtful that his campaign will succeed.

The fear is that he will damage the ankle further and jeopardise his prospects for the remainder of the summer.

August brings the United States Open, and the bundle of ranking points Rusedski has to defend after reaching the final last year, when he was defeated by Australia's Pat Rafter. Shortly after the US Open, Rusedski is due to lead Britain's quest for a return to the Wold Group of the Davis Cup in a the tie against India at Nottingham.

Rafter's name was one of the few listed on the results board yesterday. Setting aside the depression he had expressed after recent performances, the No 6 seed defeated a Swiss qualifier, Ivo Heiberger, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.

The weather omens were not good when it was noted that among the guests in the Royal Box were Mr and Mrs Flood. It did not come to that, and the aforementioned High Commissioner for Australia and his wife were able to enjoy play between the showers.

A damp Tuesday greeted the traditional "Ladies day," and it was perhaps as well that nobody reminded Martina Hingis of what befell Steffi Graf on a wet and cold second day of the Championships in 1994.

On that occasion, Graf made the sort of history she would prefer to have kept off her CV by becoming the first defending champion to lose in the first round of the the women's singles. The usually all-conquering German was defeated by the American serve and volleyer, Lori McNeil, who went on to reach the semi-finals.

Hingis, 17 made a tentative opening to her title defence in defeating the American Lisa Raymond, 7-5, 6-3. Raymond, to be fair, is a difficult opponent. She narrowly missed a seeding with a ranking of No 19.

Last year, when Hingis dominated the majority of her matches, she became familiar with Raymond's feisty play, losing the last of their three previous matches in the quarter-finals of an indoor tournament in her adoptive home city, Zurich.

Whether this played on Hingis's mind, or whether she was slightly concerned about the odd twinge in her right wrist, she did not have the better of the early exchanges,

Rain interrupted play, with Hingis leading 2-1 on serve in the second set, and the covers were on and off the court for an hour and a half before the match resumed.

When it came to serving out the match, Hingis again found Raymond hard to shift. The Swiss had three match points at 5-1, and needed a fourth three games later, delivering a winning serve to conclude the match after 86 minutes.

"I expected it to be tough," Hingis said. "I knew she would have confidence to play her game, and that is what she did very well. In the first couple of games I didn't know what to do. You play on Centre Court after one year, and I didn't have much practice."

There was one disappointment for Hingis . Her boyfriend, the Spaniard Julian Alonso, was beaten in straight sets in the first round by Germany's Nicolas Kiefer.

Yesterday at Wimbledon

Rafter survives a third-set lapse to see off Heuberger

Novotna breezes past fellow Czech Kleinova in straight sets

Defending champion Hingis eases into second round