Doubts remain over Rusedski's Davis Cup plans

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The Independent Online

British tennis gratefully embraced the Canadian-born Greg Rusedski five years ago to add punch to the nation's Davis Cup prospects, which makes it unthinkable that he should even consider deserting the cause now.

But, nearly a month after David Lloyd's sacking as the team captain, Rusedski still refuses to make a public confirmation of his commitment to the new regime, headed by Roger Taylor.

Rusedski has promised to make his intentions known before 12 April, the date of the draw for the World Group qualifying round, to be played after Wimbledon. Given his teasing of the media, a statement would be appropriate on Saturday (1 April).

Asked by your correspondent if we should watch for smoke from his chimney, Rusedski said: "Just stay positive, guys. It's nearly over, OK? Let's leave it at that."

Tim Henman, the British No 1, has said he will do what he can to help persuade Rusedski to stay with the team, adding that the Ericsson Open here this week was not the time and place to do anything other than concentrate on individual matches.

Rusedski's participation ended on Tuesday night, when he was defeated in the quarter-finals by Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, 6-3, 6-3. Taylor, who is here getting to know the British players and their coaches better, watched the match with Rusedski's mother, Helen, who was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire (Taylor is from Sheffield).

"Roger has been at most practice sessions and has been around watching the tennis," Rusedski said. "I've had amicable chats with him and Jeremy [Bates, the new Davis Cup coach]. Just social chats."

John Crowther, the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, who had a pre-arranged meeting with Rusedski immediately after Lloyd's dismissal, does not see there being a problem. "I am personally confident that Greg will play Davis Cup," Crowther said, "and if he has been disappointed by David's departure then I understand it, because they are close personal friends."

Rusedski, asked jovially if he would leave Britain before releasing his decision, said: "No, I won't be leaving the country, so don't worry about it."

Sampras defeated Rusedski for the second time in a month and for the eighth time in their nine matches. The American was too sharp for Rusedski on the night. "He was too good," Rusedski said. "For about a set and a half, I don't think anybody would have beaten him. I think that's the best he's played against me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

"He was serving the corners extremely well. He returned very well and hit some great passing shots. That's why he's considered the best, or one of the best, ever to play the game. You don't win six Wimbledons by fluke, or end six years at No 1. You've got to do something right.

"Whenever I served really hard, he seemed to block it in my feet. "When I got broken in the seventh game, I had three half-volleys at the bottom of my feet."

Sampras, free of pain in his lower back and rid of the queasy stomach that effected his performance in the previous round, agreed that he had played as well as he could.

"When you play someone like Greg, who's got such a big game, you can't play any loose shots," he said. "I got my game going, The conditions were very heavy, so I felt I had a little more time to play against him. It was hard to to hit through the court, hard to hit aces. I made him play by putting such pressure on him early on."

Rusedski, still getting into his stride, having missed the start of the season after foot surgery, said: "I think I'm going in the right direction. I got more aggressive in the second set. I think at some stages I played really well."

He paused before eventually adding: "It's really hard to tell against someone who is playing that well. I still have to raise my game to compete with Sampras, Agassi and Kafelnikov, but so far I'm pretty satisfied with the way things are going."

Henman has been named chairman of the ATP Tour Charities for 2000 in succession to Goran Ivanisevic. As part of his new role, Henman will donate £100 for every ace he serves this year, and the sum will be matched by the ATP Tour Charities.

All the funds raised will go to Henman's specially designated charity, the Sir Malcolm Sargent Cancer Care for Children. Cancer claimed the lives of two of Henman's relatives.

"I look forward to taking on this responsibility, and I think it is a great honour to help in an area I feel very strongly about."