Rampant Rusedski punishes Puerta's errors

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Although Britain's Greg Rusedski and the Argentinian Mariano Puerta both strike the ball left-handed, they made an odd couple when they played each other for the first time in the second round of the Eurocard Open here yesterday.

Although Britain's Greg Rusedski and the Argentinian Mariano Puerta both strike the ball left-handed, they made an odd couple when they played each other for the first time in the second round of the Eurocard Open here yesterday.

The lanky Rusedski, who won, 6-2, 6-3, after 54 minutes, thrives onindoor courts and jokes about hisineptitude on clay, whereas Puerto, longer of patience than of legs, has won more clay-court matches than anybody else this season (38), but was venturing indoors for the first time this year.

To add to Puerto's disadvantage, he had been nursing tendinitis in his left wrist for six weeks, and Rusedski was starting to serve like a demon again. No wonder Puerto took the precaution of going to hospital afterwards for an X-ray.

"He served great, very fast, with topspin and slice, you never knew which," the Argentinian 16th seed said admiringly in spite of his pain. "I didn't get to hit the ball when he served, and then I went to serve a little bit cold."

Delivering 15 aces and hitting 77 per cent of his first serves, Rusedski was also able to dominate the majority of the rallies and, when Puerto's wrist began to ache during the second set, the Argentinian's forehand became increasingly erratic.

Although promising to be more resilient than the Frenchman Jerome Golmard, who capitulated to Rusedski in the first round on Monday in only 43 minutes, Puerta was unable to offer a true test of Rusedski's improved form, which has enabled him to negotiate two matches in 97 minutes for the loss of only eight games.

"It's about as well as I've served this year," Rusedski said. "It's pleasing because those are two matches I should win. I came out and won them convincingly. That was a real positive. It's all starting to come back, slowly but surely. The next round is going to be a good test."

Tomorrow Rusedski will face either the Russian No 2 seed Marat Safin, the US Open champion, or the crafty Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who hits the ball two-handed on both wings. "If Safin comes through, I'll be able to answer better the question of how far I have come, because he's a great indoor player. If he doesn't come through, then it's another test, because I beat Santoro at the Olympics and it's one I should win."

Tim Henman, the British No 1, still in contention for a place in the Masters Cup in Lisbon, is due to play his opening match here against the Spaniard Albert Costa today afterreceiving a bye in the first round as the ninth seed. Costa, who defeated the Czech Jiri Novak yesterday, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6, has lost his two previous meetings with Henman, both times on outdoor hard courts.

Gustavo Kuerten, of Brazil, who leads Safin by three points in the ATP Champions Race, defeated Nicolas Escude, of France, for the first time in four attempts yesterday. Kuerten, the second seed, prevailed, 7-6, 7-6.

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