ATP accused in court of rough justice as Rusedski rebuilds

Game's governors face universal ridicule over nandrolone conundrum
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Safely returned from Cairo, the location of choice while awaiting his drugs charge verdict, and apparently none the worse for having celebrated victory with what his wife Lucy called "bad Egyptian wine", Greg Rusedski is now planning where his career path points next.

Safely returned from Cairo, the location of choice while awaiting his drugs charge verdict, and apparently none the worse for having celebrated victory with what his wife Lucy called "bad Egyptian wine", Greg Rusedski is now planning where his career path points next.

Those plans will be revealed, in part, at a media conference in London on Tuesday. Given that one of his legal team, Mark Gay, has promised that "the story will develop over the next few days", the sorely-buffeted Association of Tennis Professionals will be bracing themselves for compensation claims.

More immediately, there is the matter of the 30-year-old left-hander getting back to work. Not having presented himself for action on the circuit since a first-round exit at the Australian Open in mid-January, Rusedski is indisputably short of match practice and, again according to that wifely source, "hasn't even been on a court" in the interim.

The Masters Series tournament in Miami, a favoured Rusedski operating area, gets under way this week but, having slid to 100 in the rankings, he would be required to submit to qualifying while short of form amid the clamour surrounding his return. Although he has not yet officially withdrawn, Miami is an invitation to humiliation and Greg, a careful stepper, will tread cautiously.

Much more likely is the prospect of a gentle Davis Cup canter for Britain in Luxembourg from 9-11 April, Easter weekend. In the process of imitating a lift in a department store, the British team are attempting a return to the World Group play-offs, which will be followed by descent to the basement, the Euro/African zone where they currently dwell, and belong.

Luxembourg, whose top player Giles Muller is 170 in the world, would be the ideal undemanding return because, immediately after that, we are into the clay-court segment of the calendar. Rusedski is automatically in the Monte Carlo entry list (19-25 April) but he is already relishing the grass run-in to Wimbledon. "I can't wait to get on that Centre Court, in front of the British public," he gushed, adding, "I just want to give something back and do really well."

Where Rusedski has done really well is to get himself through the door left ajar by the fellow professionals who also escaped bans for nandrolone before that door is slammed shut. The tribunal which unanimously cleared him of the drugs charge referred to "the unique circumstances", both of Rusedski's case and the disarray in men's tennis in the wake of the ATP having conceded they could have unwittingly doped the players they subsequently charged. Although permitted to lodge an appeal within 21 days at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, ATP spokesman David Higdon said last night such an appeal was "doubtful".

The question of whether the nandrolone was contained in supplements administered by the ATP's trainers or, if not, where exactly it is coming from, is the urgent assignment of an ATP investigating body. Desperate to reverse an Everest of bad publicity and bleak financial fortunes, the ATP have also established a task force on supplements which includes 10 current players, among them Tim Henman and Andre Agassi.

Henman has warmly welcomed back his Davis Cup colleague, while Agassi sustained his barrage on the ATP by demanding they apologise to Rusedski. "The thought of somebody's livelihood being ripped to shreds for a mistake is terrible," said the game's most accomplished spokesman, reiterating an earlier concern about "an atmosphere of fear" in dressing rooms following the Rusedski case.

Another former world No 1, Lleyton Hewitt, himself involved in a lawsuit against the ATP over refusal to submit to an interview, was tested 16 times last year but says he has little faith in the current anti-doping methods. "I'd like to think tennis is clean but sometimes I've played guys who look stronger in the fifth set than the first. You have to wonder about that." Although Hewitt insists that water alone is not enough to replace lost fluids, the Lawn Tennis Association's performance director, David Felgate, feels the game can get by, as it did for decades, without supplements. "If you have to go back to water, then that's fine," is his opinion.

While the World Anti-Doping Agency, which will next month deliver a report, commissioned by the ATP, on the nandrolone conundrum in tennis, looks on dismayed at Rusedski's acquittal, the player himself is luxuriating in his vindication. It certainly makes a change of fortune for an athlete seriously hobbled by foot, knee and back problems in recent years as he prepares for the final phase of a career that once saw him ranked fourth, while possibly reflecting that top names in athletics and football have been caned, and canned, for nandrolone offences.

As Higdon stressed that the ATP had repeatedly advised players not to take supplements and, since last May, stopped supplying them, this thought occurs. In the gimme society which tennis has become, with everything from hotel rooms to courtesy cars laid on for them, requiring players to pay for their own supplements might kill the problem dead.