Exhausted Rusedski in need of help

US Open: Briton succumbs in a five-set marathon again but remains upbeat as he searches for a new coach
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Having lost a heartbreaker of a match at the US Open here in New York on Friday night, Greg Rusedski plans to set off this weekend in urgent search of two things - a full-time coach and another tournament to offer him more match practice before he travels to the Olympic Games.

Having lost a heartbreaker of a match at the US Open here in New York on Friday night, Greg Rusedski plans to set off this weekend in urgent search of two things - a full-time coach and another tournament to offer him more match practice before he travels to the Olympic Games.

Rusedski was probably glad to see the back of the Flushing Meadow arena, since it certainly cannot be classed as a happy place of work. Last year he led Todd Martin 7-5 6-0 4-1 in the fourth round, only to collapse in spectacular fashion and crash to a five-set defeat. This time he was again two sets in front of a desperately out-of-form Cedric Pioline, only for the 10th-seeded Frenchman to down Greg in five sets after3 hours 45 minutes, 6-7 3-6 6-4 7-6 6-3.

Both men had come into this contest short of matches. Rusedski's problems with his foot and form have been well publicised, while Pioline has also been out of the game since Wimbledon after breaking three bones in his left (nonhitting) hand playing volleyball. It was exhaustion which did for the British left-hander in the end but he was cheerful enough about it all afterwards and commendably upbeat as he attempts to salvage something from what has turned into a wretched year.

First, Rusedski needs to find a full-time replacement as coach for Sven Groeneveld, from whom he parted amicably after Wimbledon. He has recently been working with the American Scott Brooke at Saddlebrook, Florida. Brooke coached him early in his career and stepped in to help again on a temporary basis, since he is unwilling to travel the globe, as Greg requires. "It's not possible for Scotty to come to the Olympics or go to Europe all the time," said Rusedski. "I think I'll be training a bit more in Florida and when I'm in America he can help me. But I need something more permanent."

Rusedski is considering playing the Tashkent tournament, which was won twice by Tim Henman, en route to Sydney. "That kind of takes me halfway down there, and to get a few more matches would be nice." When it was suggested the Australian Bob Brett, who had worked with the likes of Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic, might be available to help, Rusedski grinned and said: "I don't know. He's too expensive. I don't want to be rude to Bob but I don't know if he's worth eight grand a week. But I'll find someone."

To find someone quickly would be smart, since Rusedski has slipped so badly in the rankings that he is in danger of failing to gain automatic entry to the rich European autumn indoor events where he usually prospers. A win over Pioline would have done wonders for him but he began to run out of steam on a day of high humidity as early as the third set and once he had missed two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak it was clear the opportunity had escaped him. Thirty-seven minutes later the match was duly lost.

Rusedski stuck gamely to his plan to attack the baseline-loving Pioline, charging in gallantly and sometimes recklessly. He played 157 points from the net and won only half of them. He also hit 15 aces but had 12 double-faults. "The only thing that let me down was probably my first serve percentage," he said. "Apart from that I fought well. I have nothing to complain about. He was just too good today, but I gave it everything I possibly could."

Having missed his match points and lost the fourth set, Rusedski summoned a trainer to deal with a spot of cramp in his back, but brushed aside any speculation about yet another injury. "There was nothing wrong, it's just that I haven't played that long on a tennis court in a long time. Just a bit of cramp, no big deal. I only had a short time to get ready for the Open but I played two very good matches. I mean, I could have won today but Cedric came up with it when it counted. I couldn't ask for anything more. I've been working hard. I think I'm attacking better. I'm chipping and charging, which is very physically demanding. That was a plus.

"This was totally different from last year's match with Todd Martin. I basically lost that match but Cedric won this one. That's the difference. So this is much easier to handle, much easier to take than the one against Todd because I basically gave him that match, said 'Merry Christmas, here you go'. But today Cedric took it. The guy played good tennis."

The irony was that, had Rusedski beaten Pioline, his third-round opponent would have been Martin, who crushed Michael Chang 6-46-2 6-4. But the grin is back. the next step will be to regain confidence fully. At least the foot on which he had an operation last December appears to have survived two matches in New York. "The foot's good," Greg affirmed. "Everything feels great."

Not so great, in Rusedski's opinion, is the way he feels he has been treated by some sections of the media. "People like to write you off sometimes. They don't take in all the aspects. Every athlete has one difficult year in their career. I've had some people support me in the media and some totally write me off. But they can't take away what I've accomplished in the past.

"I keep coming back from these situations. These problems and controversies only make me stronger. Some people have nice roads, others have difficult ones. And when you win it just makes you feel better."

The victory certainly made Pioline feel better. Having spent the first two sets grimacing and complaining about line calls that went against him, he smilingly signed autographs afterwards and tossed his towel into the crowd.

"I thought if I could push [Rusedski] to a fifth set I would win. But first you have to win the fourth." Pioline smiled. He could afford to this time.