Mighty-serving Canadian who embraced Union flag to boost UK tennis

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski played a big role in transforming the British tennis scene. His arrival from Montreal in 1995, to take advantage of his mother having been born in Yorkshire, achieved two things: it gave Britain a player of top-50 calibre and helped buy some time for the fledgling Tim Henman.

Although Henman was by far the most promising home-grown prospect at the time, he might not have prospered as well as he did if the mantle of British number one had passed to him from Jeremy Bates before he was prepared.

Rusedski and Henman were born on the same date, 6 September, but a year and an ocean apart. Rusedski brought with him a transatlantic bravura that helped him overcome the prejudice of those in the British tennis establishment who regarded him as a foreigner and the resentment of other British players.

But there was nobody in the country who possessed anything like the weapon of the left-handed Rusedski's mighty serve, and only Henman had enough natural talent to make an international impact.

Henman, a typically well-mannered young man from a middle-class family in Oxfordshire, was able to use Rusedski as a stalking-horse for his own ambitions. When his stylish game reached maturity, Henman was able to overtake Rusedski at the top of the British rankings. This acted as a spur to Rusedski, and the rivalry that developed between he pair was mutually beneficial.

Never close off the court, Henman and Rusedski at least managed a rapport as Davis Cup team-mates and became a winning combination in doubles for the national cause.

Rusedski sometimes tried to embrace his adopted country with too much ardour, not least when he appeared at Wimbledon wearing a Union Jack bandanna at the behest of The Sun, for whom he had a ghost-written column.

The British public seemed to have mixed feelings about the tall tennis import with the wide grin. But to his credit he was able to win most of them over. While Henman was always closer to the heart of matters because of his Englishness, Rusedski had the drive and attitude so often lacking among the many aspirants in the Lawn Tennis Association.

"Grinning Greg", as some in the media called him, made a good impression as a substantial addition to the Davis Cup team; he represented half of the team's resources, with Henman making up the rest.

Rusedski's powerful serve and his ability to win points at the net suggested that he would have the most success on Wimbledon's grass. But he was often handicapped by injuries prior to the world's most prestigious tournament. The disappointment of his inability to advance further than the quarter-finals, as he did in 1997, was offset when he advanced to the final at the United States Open in September of the same year. Although Rusedski was defeated in the final by Pat Rafter, of Australia, he became the first British representative to be ranked as one of the world's top-10 players.

In October he ranked fourth, his highest singles ranking, and ended the season being voted BBC Sports Personality of the year.

Rusedski was the first British man to reach a Grand Slam final since John Lloyd at the 1977 Australian Open. Fred Perry, as every British tennis enthusiast knows, was the last Briton to win a major tournament, ending three consecutive years of glory at Wimbledon in 1936 as the first man to win all four Grand Slam singles titles, though not in the same year.

After the 1997 US Open Rusedski left his American coach, Brian Teacher, a move that surprised many people. Teacher had improved Rusedski's ground strokes, particularly his back-hand, enabling him to compete against the best in the world.

Rusedski linked up with Tony Pickard, of Nottingham, who had guided the elegant Stefan Edberg to the peak of the game. Pickard's patience with Rusedski was exhausted in June 1998 after the player did not tell him he was taking a trip to Turkey to seek treatment for a left-ankle sprain. Returning in time for Wimbledon, Rusedski decided to play the tournament - against Pickard's better judgement - and retired in the first round when his ankle gave way again.

But 1998 was not a write-off for Rusedski. In March he hit the fastest recorded service - 149mph - at the tournament in Indian Wells, California. The American Andy Roddick matched that record last year during the Stella Artois Championships at the Queen's Club in London.

Rusedski brought his big serve and consistency to the Paris Masters in November 1998 when he became the first British player to win one of the top-nine championships on the ATP tour, beating Pete Sampras, the world's number-one ranked player, in the final.

That was one of the best achievements by a British male player since the Second World War and was matched by Henman's triumph at the same tournament last year, beating three of the world's finest players: Gustavo Kuerton, Roger Federer, the Wimbledon Champion, and Roddick, who was about to become the world's number one.

Injuries have limited Rusedski's time on court in recent years. He missed the first month of 2000 due to a foot injury; he had surgery to remove a cyst the previous December. The next year he made an impressive recovery to finish 31st in the world, and in 2002 Rusedski won ATP titles in Auckland and Indianapolis, but missed the final two months of the season because of an injury, this time to his left foot, which also required surgery.

Last year Rusedski slipped to 118, his lowest world ranking since 1994, after missing most of the season because of foot, knee and back injuries. He won one title, at Nottingham.