Navratilova issues new safety warning to players

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski's first stop after playing in the final of the United States Open in 1997 was the Samsung Open in Bournemouth. He was studiously peeling a banana during a change-over when an elderly woman tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a belated birthday card. The woman had made her way from a seat in the stands, progressing along the side of the court with the aid of a Zimmer frame, complete with brakes.

The incident came to mind during a group discussion here yesterday concerning women's safety. It was hosted by the security company ADT, one of the sponsors of the Nasdaq-100 Open, and featured Martina Navratilova and Mary Joe Fernandez among the guest speakers.

Like Rusedski, Navratilova and Fernandez remain unscathed after encounters with tennis spectators, chiefly autograph hunters, although both women said they had received death threats and acknowledged that security at tournaments had been tightened since the stabbing of Monica Seles during the Hamburg tournament in 1993. Dubravko Rajcevic, a Croatian-born Australian citizen, is due to be released next month after serving a sentence for stalking Martina Hingis. He was arrested during the tournament here two years ago.

The 200 members of South Florida women's groups and tennis clubs invited to the discussion, were advised by Navratilova to "be aware of your surroundings and walk as if you know where you are going." She added: "Attitude is important. If you walk around like a victim, you may become one."

Concerning safety in the home, the former Wimbledon champion said she was once disturbed by an intruder at her house in Aspen, Colorado. "I called the caretaker, and it turned out to be a bear in the basement."

Rusedski, striving to recapture the form that took him to No 4 in the world in 1997, is due to play Andre Agassi, the defending champion, in the second round here tonight. As was the case last year, the British No 2 intends to spend time in the gym during the forthcoming European clay court season.

"Whether or not I am going to play events like Monte Carlo, I am definitely going to be in the gym for a month with my trainer," he said. "I need a patch where I can get strong for a month, like I did in the beginning of the year for Australia."

Rusedski confirmed that he and Tim Henman, the British No 1, would participate in the World Team Cup in Düsseldorf in May for the first time since 1999.

"That will be a great week where we can have both our coaches sit on the court and help us out to get ready for the French Open," he said.

Henman, the fifth seed, who had a bye in the opening round, will play Lars Burgsmuller, a German qualifier, in the second round. Burgsmuller, No 81 in the ATP tournament entry system, defeated the Dutchman Raemon Sluiter yesterday, 6-3, 7-5. Burgsmuller, who beat Henman, 6-1, 6-4, in their only previous match, in the first round of the Hamburg clay court event last year, won the Copenhagen title last month.

Todd Martin considers that "tennis was not made to be played on an island". This is not because the American capitulated to his compatriot MaliVai Washington in the 1996 Wimbledon semi-finals, but because of his dreadful match record here in Key Biscayne.

"I stink down here," Martin said, describing six years of early departures. It seemed that his run would continue against Julien Boutter, of France, in the first round, but Martin recovered to win, 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, taking the final set tie-break, 9-7. Martin now plays Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, the second seed.