British No 2 finds the old self-belief

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski left the Samsung Open in Nottingham on Saturday with a 13th career title and the belief that he has never entered the Wimbledon fortnight in such good form.

"I haven't played better going into Wimbledon, even when I won the title here in 1997," said the British No 2 after his impressive 6-3, 6-2 win over America's Mardy Fish. "That's a real positive start for me and what I'm pleased with is the other aspects of my game. My return, my backhand and my movement around the court and the net are all getting better.

"My goal [after nine months out through injury] was just to get back to tennis and be ready for Wimbledon. I didn't think in my wildest dreams I would win my third event back. I'm still a little surprised myself that I won."

Most surprising on Saturday was how little resistance Rusedski's 21-year-old opponent put up. After impressing all week to reach the final, he looked a Fish out of water when he got there. From the moment his serve was broken in the fourth game of the opening set, Rusedski was in complete control. A series of unforced errors did little to help Fish's cause and his most devastating shot of the afternoon came when he smashed his racket to pieces in frustration.

That should not diminish Rusedski's success because his all-round game was sharp and his serving, especially in the second set, when he dropped just two points on it, was superb. It augured well for the start of Wimbledon today.

If Rusedski manages to beat his first-round opponent, Germany's Alexander Waske, the second round is likely to see him face Andy Roddick, one of the pre-tournament favourites. Rusedski eliminated the American in SW19 last year but Roddick gained revenge recently in the Stella Artois.

"He's a better player than last year," Rusedski said. "But I feel I'm doing things better and better with every match I play so it's going to be an exciting match if it happens. My expectation is to get past the first round and then to try to open up the draw in Roddick's section. That's going to be my key match if I get by the first round.

"I'll really have to lift my game for the second round and if I can do that and find a way through, anything can happen."

Yesterday's draw certainly did him no harm when he was handed a late start for his match against Waske today. After the rigours of Nottingham Rusedski got precisely what he wanted, his match on No 1 Court follows the games between Roddick and Italy's Davide Sanguinetti, and the American Lindsay Davenport and Australia's Samantha Stosur.

* Sjeng Schalken underlined his Wimbledon credentials, with a comfortable straight-sets victory in the final of the Ordina Open in Den Bosch yesterday. Facing the Frenchman Arnaud Clement in a repeat of the 2002 final, Schalken, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year, coasted to a 6-3 6-4 win. It was the Dutchman's first ATP title of 2003. Schalken is seeded eighth for Wimbledon and faces Britain's Arvind Palmer in the first round today. Clement, the 15th seed, takes on the American Robby Ginepri in the first round.

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