Tennis: Woodbridge serves up a harsh reminder for Rusedski

Australian open tennis
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Greg Rusedski's Grand Slam championship ambitions were put into context yesterday as he was left to reflect on his unexpected exit from the Australian Open.

Rusedski was forced to head home for an unwanted extra week's practice in London after his third-round defeat in Melbourne by Australia's Todd Woodbridge.

The No 5 seed's straight sets reverse showed just how far he still has to go if he is to emerge from a bunch of hopefuls as a serious challenger to Pete Sampras' world No 1 spot.

Rusedski may have the fastest serve in tennis, but it was easily blunted by the returns of doubles specialist Woodbridge and caused the rest of his game to crumble. The 24-year-old's much-vaunted new all-round game, which helped him to the US Open final in New York last year, was curious by its absence once his serve floundered.

"I didn't serve well," admitted Rusedski, broken five times by Woodbridge in the 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2 defeat. "I didn't change it up and take my time and do things that I know I should have. My first two matches were fantastic and I did everything I wanted to do and played some of my best tennis, but against Todd I didn't and he took advantage."

Rusedski, who had not lost his serve in the two earlier rounds, added: "I don't really know why it changed so much from my first two matches. But I wasn't aggressive enough on my ground game and my return of serve."

Coach Tony Pickard, the man Rusedski turned to after dumping Brian Teacher believing he could take him that extra step up the rankings, was also unable to explain his new charge's loss of form. "He was not hitting the ball as he should," he said. "He just did not play the right way."

Rusedski, who returns to action at the European Community Championships in Antwerp next month, is likely to drop a couple of places from his world ranking of six depending on results in the rest of the championship.

However, what he will also be regretting is spurning a great chance of a second successive Grand Slam final appearance after his half of the draw was left with just one seed, Marcelo Rios, at the end of the third round.

Rusedski's defeat ended a disappointing opening Grand Slam for Britain with Tim Henman surprisingly losing in the first round to the French qualifier Jerome Golmard.