James Lawton: Only Rusedski can remove curse of emotional frailty

British No 2's wife pinpoints area of vulnerability which must be addressed if world-class player is to crown remainder of career with success
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lucy Rusedski has made a remarkable impact since joining the swollen ranks of celebrity sports broadcasting - and not just because she has stood by her man more relentlessly than anyone since Tammy Wynette. Along her brief way she has surely given us one of the most haunting visions of Wimbledon.

It is of Greg and her sitting wordlessly in the lounge of their rented flat overlooking the courts while watching darkness fall.

Better yet, Mrs Rusedski has gone right to the heart of her husband's Centre Court implosion last week.

It was not so much about a petulant burst of obscene language, however regrettable that might have been - not very, the tournament referee said with a trivial fine - but a terrible competitive failure. Rudeski's real crime was to refuse to engage properly the challenge presented by the young, hot American Andy Roddick.

He could have gone two ways after allowing himself to be unsettled by the idiot call of "out" from the crowd. He could have consigned the lost point to the inevitable accumulation of life's debris - and got on with his job as a world-class sportsman who came so mightily close to winning a US Open six years ago and who, beyond Wimbledon, has exceeded the performance of the idolised Tim Henman in terms of titles won.

Again, Lucy the tiro broadcaster has put her finger, without disloyalty, on the crux of the matter in a way which shames so many of her more experienced colleagues who have piled one platitude on top of another these last few days.

She points out that unlike those old outrages of arch-critic John McEnroe, her husband's behaviour was based on an outbreak of emotional frailty rather than strategic calculation.

As a leading psychologist pointed out, as "Superbrat" was making himself the dark prince of volcanic eruption he was never the victim of a volatile nature. In fact, at the core of it, was his need to charge himself rather than distract his opponents. One remembers John McEnroe Snr, an amiable corporate lawyer, expressing mystification in his office on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, at the vilification and misunderstanding of a son who had been an earnest achiever at high-powered Stanford University and a good natured, if highly competitive, participant in family games of touch football on Long Island weekends.

Rusedski is plainly a sharply different and much more vulnerable case and, at 30, it is clearly something he needs to consider strenuously if, as Lucy predicts, he is to restore himself significantly and make some impact on the last Grand Slam event of the year, the US Open.

It is certainly no good making the feeble defence of pressures brought by nine months of injury trouble. That is simply part of the professional sportsman's life, something to be borne not advertised.

Pat Rafter, who beat Rusedski in that US Open final, carried a "crook" shoulder to his epic Wimbledon shoot-out with Goran Ivanisevic two years ago. You scarcely heard a peep of complaint from the Aussie through a long period of pain and frustration, and it is a model which Rusedski could usefully employ as the sun eventually climbs back into the sky over SW19.

Most helpfully, he can weigh the old truth that the great performers reserve their heaviest criticism for themselves. They do not stray outside of their own power to influence events. They know that there is nothing wrong with losing if you can look at yourself and say there wasn't anything more you could have done to prevent such an affront.

Rusedski cannot begin to make such a claim for himself after this Wimbledon. He allowed a fool to sabotage his effort. Now he has apologised and paid his fine. More vitally, though, he is obliged to remove the curse he has placed upon himself. He can only do this by playing his own game - on his own terms.

That is the mark of the honest player and, invariably, something to be found in a true champion.

Confederations Cup redeems itself with moving tribute to Foé

However misbegotten the Confederations Cup, it was right that the final should have been played at the Stade de France as a moving tribute to the brave spirit of the fallen Marc-Vivien Foé.

The story of his country's football just happens to be one of the more vivid working metaphors for both the pains and the joys of life both inside and out of the touchlines.

Cameroon were the great if not unflawed glory of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Victorious over the reigning champions, Argentina, in the opening game at San Siro - where they mixed blood-chilling violence with some breathtaking football - they were eventually fiendishly unlucky to be beaten by England in the quarter-finals on a steamy night in Naples. Four years later in America, their French coach was required to dig into his own pockets to pay for soft drinks and sticking plasters and if a team official hadn't arrived with a suitcase filled with bank notes, the long-suffering players would have withdrawn from their final pool game with Russia.

On Sunday all the players had the names of Foé on their shirts. That was powerfully touching - as was the acceptance that some things in life, like the death of a fine and committed sportsman, can never be properly explained. Some argued that the game should have been abandoned. But what would that have said? Nothing that I can imagine, except that death, even one as tragic as Marc-Vivien Foé's, isn't part of life.

Ferrari's dark side revealed by Brawn

Ferrari, thanks to their technical director, Ross Brawn, did achieve one first at Nürburgring. They sailed in as champions of graceless defeat.

Brawn categorised as "classless" the brilliant and impeccable manoeuvre which saw Juan Pablo Montoya make a monkey out of Michael Schumacher for a second time in their brief but increasingly taut rivalry. Presumably, it was ill-mannered of Montoya even to consider overtaking the Emperor of the track.

When the Colombian arrived in Formula One he said that his prime ambition was to get "under the skin" of the great Schumacher, a process he started last year with a superb overtaking move in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Sunday's effort, while finishing second to his team-mate and Michael's young brother, Ralf, was one reason for bliss in the vibrantly reanimated Williams-BMW compound.

Still another might have been the recall of a statement which some considered infinitely more classless than the beautiful temerity of Juan Pablo Montoya. It came in response to a question about the implications of a possible "equalising" restriction on the amount of track testing time available to the most powerful teams. "We'll just build another wind tunnel and employ some more people," said the big gun. Yes, you guessed. It was Ross Brawn.

Dick should not dismiss the past of Dr Arbeit

Denise Lewis's decision to work with the former drug-distributing czar of the old East German athletic empire is a controversy that just will not go away - nor should it.

An uncomfortable feeling could only be intensified by hearing the interview the senior coach in British athletics, Frank Dick, gave to the BBC's Garry Richardson. Dick said he advised Lewis that Dr Ekkart Arbeit was the most knowledgeable heptathlon coach and that his unsavoury past could be comfortably put on one side against the practical value of employing him today.

Dr Arbeit knows all about the required training patterns and the muscle development best suited for all the various aspects of her event. The fact that he organised the systematic doping of a generation of talented but relentlessly abused young athletes is just a dusty remnant of history. Dr Arbeit regrets his actions and points out he was merely following orders.

Heavens knows the advice Dick would have offered if one of Britain's most prominent athletes had been looking for help in public relations. Perhaps, if he had survived the bunker, Dr Goebbels would have been in with a shout.