Davis Cup fear as limping Rusedski is a faller at the first hurdle

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The Independent Online

On his night of valediction Pete Sampras was entitled to allow himself a wry smile about one result in particular on the opening day of the United States Open here yesterday. Greg Rusedski had lost in the first round.

A year ago, after losing to Sampras in the third round, Rusedski voiced the opinion that the great man was a "step and a half slower". Sampras went on to win his 14th Grand Slam singles title.

Yesterday, as Sampras waited to enter the Arthur Ashe stadium for the tributes to flow to mark his retirement, Rusedski was defeated, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, by another Gregory ­ Gregory Carraz ­ a 28-year-old Frenchman who had only won one previous match at a Grand Slam tournament and is ranked 10 places below Rusedski at No 100.

Carraz caught the British No 2 on a day when very little went right for Rusedski in the heat and wind on Court 11. As the match progressed, Rusedski seem to develop a limp, which must raise doubts about his fitness for the Davis Cup tie in Morocco next month. "I should be fine," Rusedski said. "It was just pretty tough playing my first five-set match on a hard court after being out for nine months. This surface is pretty rough on the body."

Carraz, a serve-and-volleyer who has developed late among the cluster of excellent Frenchmen on the Tour, looked as sprightly as Rusedski was ill at ease. Carraz took the initiative and showed the confidence that marked his performance against Lleyton Hewitt in the second round at Wimbledon last year, when the Australian prevailed and went on to win the title.

Although Rusedski managed to level the match at one-set all he was embarrassed by the Frenchman in the third set, which sped by in only 28 minutes. During this time Rusedski double-faulted six times and Carraz did not make a single unforced error.

It seemed that the Frenchman would ease to victory after he broke for 3-2 in the fourth set. But Rusedski recovered to 4-4, assisted by a his opponent's double-fault on break point and was able to level the match. Carraz responded by breaking decisively for 4-3 in the final set. It was Rusedski's first opening-round defeat at the US Open since 1996, the year before he reached the final.

Two seeds disappeared in the first round of the men's singles. Sebastien Gosjean, the French No 9 seed, who was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, lost to Ramon Delgado, a Paraguayan qualifier ranked 158 in the world, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. Tommy Robredo, the Spanish 17th seed, was eliminated by his fellow countryman, Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Few judges, including her father, Edward, who presides in Louisiana, would have expected Chanda Rubin to feature in the women's singles final. But it was reasonable to believe that the eighth-seeded Rubin would help carry the American flag beyond the first round in the absence on the Williams sisters.

Instead, Rubin became the first major casualty of the tournament, losing, 6-4, 6-4, to Maria Vento-Kabchi, of Venezuela, in the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Rubin, the 27-year-old Eastbourne champion, had won her two previous matches against Vento-Kabchi, but this was their first meeting since 1997.

The 29-year-old, ranked No 84, has won titles on the minor circuits but has yet to make her mark on the WTA Tour. She defeated Rubin yesterday by serving the more steadily and making only half as many errors during their 72 minutes on court.

"It was a really bad match for me," Rubin admitted. "I just didn't play with enough glue, with enough consistency, didn't concentrate well enough. I really wasn't ready to play this morning." Asked if her recent shoulder injury had played a part in the defeat, given her lack of match practice, Rubin said: "You definitely don't like to have an injury going into a Grand Slam [tournament], but I wouldn't say that was a factor, based on the way that I played. I can't remember playing quite this bad. Being the US Open Centre Court makes it worse than playing this bad somewhere else."

Amelie Mauresmo, of France, the fifth seed and a semi-finalist here last year, defeated Angelique Widjaja, of Indonesia, the 2001 Wimbledon junior champion, 6-0, 6-2. Widjaja found it hard enough keeping pace with the powerful Mauresmo without donating seven double-faults to her opponent.

The Russian Vera Douchevina, who won the first point of the tournament, was beaten by the American Ashley Harkleroad, 6-4, 6-2. Aged 18 and ranked No 52, Harkleroad missed three tournaments en route to Flushing Meadows because of an elbow injury. "I was very excited with the way I played today after being out for most of the summer," she said.