Federer calls for end to Rusedski suspense

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Three weeks after Greg Rusedski faced an ATP drugs tribunal in Montreal, the British No 2's career remains in limbo as he awaits a verdict that could bring a two-year ban.

The Dubai Open here this week was one of the tournaments on Rusedski's schedule. Although he is free to play pending the tribunal's decision on his positive test for the steroid nandrolone in Indianapolis last July, Rusedski prefers not to because of the uncertainty about his future.

His lawyers have been told that the timing of the tribunal's decision is open-ended because of the mechanics of the process. The three members of the panel dealing with Rusedski's case have to reach a unanimous verdict. The independent chairman, Yves Fortier, QC, is based in Montreal, but one of the sports drugs experts is in Puerto Rico and the other is in Norway.

As the issue drags on, so the other competitors on the ATP Tour wonder where the situation will lead - particularly six of the players who were let off even though Rusedski's sample and theirs demonstrated a common analytical fingerprint. The World Anti-Doping Agency is conducting an investigation into the ATP's handling of those cases.

Tim Henman, the British No 1, who is due to play his first round match against the Czech Tomas Zib here this evening, was asked yesterday to comment about the agony of suspense Rusedski must be going through.

"You're asking the wrong person," Henman said. "Only Greg can know that. But I'm sure it's been a difficult period. I still don't think he'd take anything knowingly, but we'll have to wait for the tribunal's verdict."

Roger Federer, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and world No 1, who may play Henman in the quarter-finals here, said: "I think it would be better if the [Rusedski verdict] came out now, then we wouldn't be talking about it all the time." He added: "I guess he knew that when he came out with that [statement] himself. I don't feel bad for Rusedski, because he knows what he's doing."

Federer was the most frequently drug-tested player on the ATP Tour last year: 21 times, with 20 of his tests (two of them blood tests for EPO) conducted at tournaments, and one done out of competition.

"I've no problem being tested all the time," Federer said. "The tests have been negative all the time so far. I'm not concerned because I know I'm not doing anything wrong. Now they are testing more for blood. I'm not a big fan of that, but I understand.

"It's in your own power what you're taking. I'm not taking water that's been standing on another table.

"I think the testing has been done very aggressively, in a good way. It is important to me that the sport stays clean. It has a good record."

Federer's first round draw against the Russian Marat Safin, who has entered on a wild card, is a repeat of the Australian Open final on 1 February. "It's a big surprise," Federer said, "but playing a Grand Slam final in the first round is a chance for both of us to play another good match. It makes me focus more."

Henman defeated Federer for the sixth time in seven matches in the quarter-finals in Rotterdam less then two weeks ago. If the sixth-seeded Henman overcomes Zib, his second round opponent will be either Andrei Pavel, of Romania, or the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach.

* Justine Henin-Hardenne made a successful defence of the women's title here on Saturday. The Belgian world No 1 defeated the 18-year-old Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-6, 6-3.