Ailing Rusedski bamboozled by Hewitt's game

Friday is not the best day for Greg Rusedski to play Lleyton Hewitt, who has beaten the British No 2 in straight sets in quarter-finals in consecutive weeks, in Basle and Stuttgart.

Friday is not the best day for Greg Rusedski to play Lleyton Hewitt, who has beaten the British No 2 in straight sets in quarter-finals in consecutive weeks, in Basle and Stuttgart.

Yesterday, however, there were moments during a 6-4,6-4 defeat when Rusedski played as if he did not know what day it was, partly because he was bamboozled by Hewitt's groundstrokes and partly because his back was stiff from his exertions on the indoor hard courts.

Although Rusedski figuratively took pains to play down the ailment - "It didn't affect me at all; Lleyton played extremely well" - his erratic serving gave a clear indication why he had to wear a back support and why he had consulted his German doctor in Munich after feeling the injury during the second set of his impressive win on Thursday against Marat Safin, the Russian top seed.

"If you don't serve the corners well and put enough first serves in, you're going to be in an awful lot of trouble with Lleyton," said Rusedski, whose first-serve percentage of 48 left him open to attack from the opening game, when he saved a break point after a double-fault.

Hewitt hit 61 per cent of his first serves without shaking the foundations, but Rusedski was unable to create a single break point - even when the Australian double-faulted three times in the sixth game of the opening set.

Rusedski was broken in the next game, netting a forehand after Hewitt returned a second serve, and two games later the Briton received a code violation for hitting a ball into the stand after double-faulting.

Hewitt was never threatened after breaking Rusedski in the opening game of the second set with a superb forehand return down the line. In fact, only four points were won against serve during the remainder of the match, two of them by Rusedski, who managed to hold to love in the seventh game without hitting a first serve.

The 19-year-old Australian, who eliminated Tim Henman, the British No 1, in the third round, today plays Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov for a place in tomorrow's final of the Masters Series event. Kafelnikov, the sixth seed, defeated the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, a lucky loser from the qualifying, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Kafelnikov, the Olympic champion, did not endear himself to the ATP Tour by saying "tennis is dying" and pointing to Andre Agassi as the only "marquee player" to compare with the likes of Borg, McEnroe, Edberg and Becker. "I hope Agassi's going to stay a lot longer so we can really find the one or two guys who can really step it up and take over," Kafelnikov said.

Agassi, 30, has turned full circle in the tennis fashion department, from a bleach-maned rebel swaddled in hot lava and hot lime creations to a slap-head in hot pants.

His short shorts were as much a feature of the tournament as his short matches. "I think there's a certain classical look to them that I probably appreciate more now than I ever have," Agassi said. "I was specifically involved in going back to more fitted shorts. They're not ideal to practise in, because you can't put four or five balls in your pocket when you're out there doing some training."

Your correspondent suggested there was a certain irony that Agassi's streamlined, leggy look has been launched just when the ATP Tour is in the process of replacing the Stick Man on their logo with a figure in baggy shirt and shorts, "conveying the modern and dynamic nature of our sport in the 21st century".

"That timing is ironic, but accidental," Agassi said. "Did you like the way my shorts looked? Were they too short?"

They weren't, but the tournament promoters had hoped for a longer preview.

Agassi was eliminated in his second match by the Romanian Andrei Pavel, 6-3, 6-4. "At this point I have to be somewhat humble about my tennis game and accept where I am," he said.

Steffi Graf, Agassi's 31-year-old girlfriend, apparently has no option but to accept that her playing days are but a memory. The retired seven times Wimbledon champion has suffered so much wear and tear in her left knee that she says she is not even able to play "housewife's tennis".

Anna Kournikova needed nine match points yesterday before defeating Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva to reach the semi-finals of the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig. The Russian No 3 seed, who is still seeking her first WTA Tour title, finally sealed a 6-4, 7-5 win when a return from the fifth-seeded Bulgarian sailed wide.

Kournikova now faces Kim Clijsters, of Belgium, who fought off a match point before beating the Australian No 8 seed, Jelena Dokic, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 in a thrilling battle of promising 17-year-olds.

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