Leading Britons take contrasting route to US Open

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, and we are not only referring to the daily journey across the East River from mid-town Manhattan to the site of the United States Open at Flushing Meadow in Queens. The reserved Stefan Edberg loathed the place, until he won the title. New York is like that: loathe it, or love it.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, and we are not only referring to the daily journey across the East River from mid-town Manhattan to the site of the United States Open at Flushing Meadow in Queens. The reserved Stefan Edberg loathed the place, until he won the title. New York is like that: loathe it, or love it.

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski like it so much that they spend their birthdays here (both 6 September, four days before this year's men's singles final). Henman will be 26, Rusedski 27, a middle-aged couple in tennis terms.

Both say they enjoy the "hustle and bustle" of New York, although not to the extent of allowing themselves to be mugged on the court, as they were 12 months ago.

Henman, seeded No 6, was hoodwinked in the first round, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3, by the top-spin of Guillermo Canas, a 21-year-old from Buenos Aires. Henman described his performance, without contradiction, as "an all-time low, pretty horrendous".

Rusedski, seeded No 9, advanced to the fourth round and appeared capable of repeating his 1997 feat of going all the way to the final. Pete Sampras, the top seed, had withdrawn injured from Rusedski's quarter of the draw on the eve of the tournament, and now a debilitated Todd Martin barely stood before him, two sets to love down and ready to be put out of his misery.

Between then and dejectedly packing his rackets, Rusedski failed to secure the cushion of a 5-2 lead in the third set, was unable to serve the match out at 5-4 in the third set and lost a 4-1 lead in the fifth set, gaining only one point in the concluding five games - a Martin double-fault. Martin won, 5-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. "To lose like this is just terrible," Rusedski said. "I just didn't do my job, and there's no excuse for it."

Britain's leading contenders, along with two qualifiers, Jamie Delgado and Barry Cowan, are preparing for another crack at the US Open, which starts today, having taken vastly different routes to Flushing Meadow.

Henman, seeded No 11, is in the fast lane after his best run in American tournaments: a finalist in the Masters Series event in Cincinnati, where he defeated Sampras for the first time in seven attempts and overcame the leader of the ATP Champions Race, Gustavo Kuerten, and a semi-finalist last week in Indianapolis.

Although wise enough not to think beyond his first-round match against Spain's Fernando Vicente, who defeated him in five sets at the French Open in June, Henman is in the traffic on the highway with Richard Krajicek, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Rusedski is about to edge out of a lay-by to play Sweden's Magnus Gustaffson, the British No 2's first match since withdrawing from the doubles rubber during the Davis Cup defeat by Ecuador at Wimbledon six weeks ago after a recurrence of a pain in his right foot. The injury has deducted a total of five months from his season.

"This is kind of a nightmare year for me," Rusedski said, his status reduced to 28th place in the ATP Tour's entry system for tournaments and seedings, and down to 78th in the Champions Race. "It's one of those years every athlete suffers. Unfortunately, 2000 has been that year for me."

Confident that surgery last Christmas had cured his ailment, the left-handed Rusedski was disturbed to discover that the rhythm of his serving technique, once capable of launching rockets at up to 149 mph - the fastest ever recorded on the ATP Tour - had been impaired by a lack of flexibility in pushing off the ground with his leading right foot.

Losing in the first round of the French Open to the Czech Slava Dosedel frustrated Rusedski so much that he threatened to give up trying to play on slow clay courts. He had a change of heart about that, only to suffer the indignity of having his grass-court game undermined in the first round at Wimbledon by Vince Spadea, an American who finally ended his record run of 21 consecutive defeats stretching back to October last year.

Rusedski and his coach, the Dutchman Sven Groeneveld (best man at Rusedski's wedding last December), decided to end their association by mutual agreement. But Rusedski's agonies continued when he was unable to capitalise on a 4-2 lead in the fifth set against Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti on the first day of the Davis Cup and then had to pull out of the doubles.

Even though Rusedski considered he was fit enough last week to test himself by competing in the Hamlet Cup in Long Island, an ear infection delayed his travelling plans, so he concentrated on working at a training base in Saddlebrook, Florida, linking up again with one of his former coaches, the American Scott Brooke. "Scott knows my game pretty well," Rusedski said. "I've trained at Saddlebrook in the past 10 years, and he follows my matches on TV and keeps in touch."

Brooke stopped travelling with Rusedski in the mid-1990s, deciding he did not want to spend so much time away from home. Is he ready to hit the road again?

"I'm not sure yet," Rusedski said. "Scott and his wife have a good relationship and he just wanted not to be away from her so much. After the US Open we're going to sit down and figure out which weeks we're going to be able to travel."

Rusedski's foot injury put him out of action for six weeks last year, but at least he was able to play in Boston ahead of the US Open, losing to Russia's Marat Safin in the final.

"I'm not expecting too much, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm just trying to put my game back together, that's the most important thing right now. I'm quite pleased to be at the Open and will then be able to get ready for the Olympics, which is nice as well. My goal for the rest of the year is basically to try to win one title, so I can keep my streak alive of five straight years winning a title. That would be more than satisfactory for me."

Henman's recent flourish was overshadowed to some extent by the media's emphasis on the fact that his defeat in Cincinnati by Sweden's Thomas Enqvist meant that the British No 1 had lost seven consecutive finals. And in the Indianapolis semi-finals he was overpowered by Safin in straight sets.

Then again, Henman was judged by some to have been a failure at Wimbledon after losing in five sets in the fourth round to Australia's Mark Philippoussis, one of the favourites.

But Henman's self-belief has been re-enforced by a decision he took on his birthday last year after analysing his game in the wake of his defeat by Canas at the US Open.

"I'm a big believer that hard work pays off," he said, "and perhaps that was lacking. David [Felgate, his coach] and I knew what was functioning and what wasn't and we decided I needed to do more work on my training, especially the running aspect, my serve and my forehand. Things don't change overnight, and I had to be patient. But I think I'm beginning to reap the rewards."

Patience tends to be lost early at Flushing Meadow. "I think you have to learn," Henman said. "It's not quite Wimbledon when you're playing. It's really noisy, there's a hell of a lot of people moving around, and you've got airplanes flying over. At Wimbledon, I'm 10 minutes from the courts. But if there's bad traffic coming out of the city here, it can be an hour to Flushing Meadow.

"You have to adjust to that and you have to be prepared for it. But I've always really enjoyed it. Take the tennis side out of it, I really enjoy the city and I always have. There's obviously a lot going on here, but I think it helps that I do enjoy both aspects. That's why it disappoints me that I haven't done better here. I've played some good tennis at times, but I don't think [getting to] the fourth round is good enough. The way my game is, there's no reason why I can't have a really good run."

Henman is one of any number of players who fancy their chances.

"There isn't exactly one player who is dominating right now," he said. "I still think Pete [Sampras] and Andre [Agassi] will be the two favourites, just because of their past record and their experience in New York. I suppose there's a slight question mark over [Pat] Rafter, but if his shoulder is 100 per cent I think you put him in with Pete and Andre.

"But in the next group there's a lot of players who have genuine opportunities to go all the way - Kuerten, Safin, Enqvist, myself, Philippoussis - and everybody needs a little bit of luck in a two-week tournament."

Rusedski would not argue with that.

RECORDS AT THE US OPEN

TIM HENMAN

1995 (unseeded) Second round: bt Juan Albert Viloca (Spain) 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2; lost to Jared Palmer (United States) 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1.

1996 (unseeded) Fourth round: bt Roberto Jabali (Brazil) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Doug Flach (United States) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Todd Martin (United States) 6-2, 7-6, 6-4; lost to Stefan Edberg (Sweden 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

1997 (unseeded) Second round: bt Thomas Muster (Austria) 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4; lost to Wayne Ferreira (South Africa) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

1998 (13th seed) Fourth round: bt Scott Draper (Australia) 6-3, 7-6, 7-6; Felix Mantilla (Spain), 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4; Michael Kohlmann (Germany) 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4; lost to Mark Philippoussis (Australia) 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, 6-1.

1999 (Sixth seed) First round: lost to Guillermo Canas (Argentina) 7-6, 6-4, 6-3.

GREG RUSEDSKI

1994 (unseeded) First round: lost to Henrik Holm (Sweden) 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

1995 (unseeded) First round: lost to Joost Winnink (Netherlands) 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1.

1996 (unseeded) First round: lost to Hendrik Dreekmann (Germany) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

1997 (unseeded) Final: bt David Wheaton (United States) 6-2, 6-3, 6-3; Marcos Ondruska (South Africa) 7-6, 6-4, 6-1; Jens Knippschild (Germany) 7-6, 6-3, 6-1; Daniel Vacek (Czech Republic) 7-6, 6-2, 6-2; Richard Krajicek (Netherlands) 7-5, 7-6, 7-6; Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden) 6-1, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5; lost to Pat Rafter (Australia) 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

1998 (Sixth seed) Third round: bt Wayne Ferreira (South Africa) 4-6, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4; Bohdan Ulihrach (Czech Republic) 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5; lost to Jan Siemerink (Netherlands) 1-6, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.

1999 (Ninth seed) Fourth round: bt Juan Carlos Ferrero (Spain) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; David Prinosil (Germany) 6-4, 6-3, 6-1; Chris Woodruff United States) 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; lost to Todd Martin (United States) 5-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

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