Reliant Rusedski is fine-tuned into a Ferrari

Stunning Davis Cup win over Lapentti engineered by coach and biomechanist Langevad
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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski's extraordinary singles victory which settled Britain into the driver's seat in the Davis Cup tie against Ecuador may have been executed in a Guayaquil cauldron but it was crafted in the heat and humidity of Florida.

It was there, on the Turnberry Isle resort's green-clay courts, that Rusedski sweated and grafted his way to peak form in a week of solid endeavour. The occasion, plotted as an acclimatising get-together for his squad by the British captain, Roger Taylor, misfired in one respect, since two of his three singles players, Tim Henman and Martin Lee, never made it to Florida because of the terrorist attack on the United States.

But Rusedski, who travelled direct from the US Open in New York and even turned up a couple of days before the rest of his team-mates, was a sensational beneficiary from the time spent in Turnberry with his coach and biomechanist, Brad Langevad.

The London-based Australian, who teamed up with Rusedski 10 months ago, has overseen a spectacular improvement in his man's health and form, the result of rebuilding every stroke in his game. While rain drove Rusedski and the others indoors, Langevad told me, "We have had a really exciting last couple of days working on things. Greg is just on fire at the moment and we are brainstorming back and forth to each other. We are like a telephone line, we work so well together and respond to each other well."

Certainly the Rusedski I watched at practice and to whom I spoke in Florida radiated a fresh determination and confidence. He surprised Taylor with his talk of being committed, if necessary, to playing 15 sets of tennis in three rubbers if that was what was needed to overcome Ecuador. Well aware that he has underperformed on previous Davis Cup occasions, Rusedski also did swimming-pool drills with his physio, Ryan Kendrick, and worked out daily in the resort's gym.

At Wimbledon 14 months ago, it was an ailing Rusedski's opening-day loss to Nicolas Lapentti which put Britain on the slide towards a spectacular defeat by Ecuador, a defeat which got Britain into this mess of a World Group qualifying tie on South American clay. How approp-riate that, fit and firing on all cylinders, it should be Greg who has helped redress the balance.

"When he started with me, Greg was ranked 72nd in the world," said Langevad. "He says that if he can finish the year in the top 20 it will have been a fantastic year and that anything better would be unbelievable. He is 26th now and if he can break into the top 20 I would regard that, not as a job completed, but a job well done.

"We are both perfectionists. We kept it under our breath but the two of us had an eye on a target. Greg wanted to get back into the top 30. Even top 40, he said, would be nice and give him a chance to get his career back on track. I secretly had a target of No 1 by the end of the year, but when Andre Agassi started to win a few on the trot early in the year I thought two would be acceptable."

Langevad's plotting is not as outrageous as it might appear. Rusedski started the year like a rocket, defeating the likes of Agassi, world No 1 Gustavo Kuerten and the No 2, Marat Safin. He won the tournament in San Jose, California. "Greg picked up quicker than I expected," said Langevad. "I had been expecting a big second half to the year, but it has been more of a consistent second half. This is because he has been playing a lot of tournaments, trying to get his ranking up, and it has been difficult for me to change and polish things in the middle of a series of tournaments."

But, he warned, Rusedski is not the finished product just yet. "We are still pulling a few more things into shape. It is like creating a Ferrari and then at the end of the season one of the wheels starts to get wobbly and you have to put it back on.

"But he is already thinking about next year by adding new dimensions to his game. We have been developing one of the best serves in the game. Now his service action is not causing him to get injured and is more consistent. Then I thought, why don't we give him the best groundstrokes in the world? Now those groundstrokes can match anyone from the baseline."

Rusedski's accuracy and patience in demoralising and then destroying Lapentti on Friday showed how well the lessons have been taken aboard. "We have also been working on Greg's returns but haven't yet got quite to where we want to be," Langevad added. "I have the research on all the top returners like Agassi. The aim is to put that into Greg's game and make him a more complete player. All the top players have weaknesses and I thought, to hell with that, why not produce someone who doesn't have a weakness?"

Langevad exploded into laughter at the audacity of that thought. "But I want to get his returns and the rest of his game so good that if he does have a day where his first-serve percentage drops he can still win with other things."

Guayaquil has shown just how smoothly the plan is functioning on Rusedski's least favourite surface. His favourite time of the year, Europe's autumn indoor circuit, is coming up next, so the results and ranking promise to improve further. "As Greg said to me the other day, it is good to see it working. Next year I am hoping to get him to the top and then I can think about cutting back a bit on my road time." Meantime, Langevad's face was one of those wearing a bright smile at courtside in Guayaquil.

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