Despite comparing his service action to a car in urgent need of an MOT, Greg Rusedski managed to drive safely, if shakily and in low gear, into the third round of the MastersSeries tournament here witha 6-4 7-5 win over Andrei Medvedev.
Neither man played well. Medvedev, in fact, was horrendously lax and thus permitted the British left-hander time to dwell on his shots and get away with it. Having now lost to the British player six straight times, Medvedev is in danger of acquiring the label of Rusedski's Rabbit.
This is only Rusedski's fifth tournament since his footoperation last December, and there remains much rust to be shed. After the embarrassment of early defeat at Indian Wells last week he cited three areas where practice andimprovement were urgently needed - serve, volley and backhand, which doesn't leave a lot in his game classified as functioning normally.
Rusedski is much given to mood swings, and there were fears on Friday that if thevagaries of the weather didn't weigh him down, the long wait to get on court would. It was a day of swirling winds and heat, but by the time Rusedski finally buckled on the breastplate and marched into action night had long fallen as a result of two yawn-inducing women's matches and then the struggle which saw Tim Henman'ssecond-round opponent, the Argentinian qualifier Agustin Calleri, knock out the man most people expected Henman to be facing, Marc Rosset, 5-7 6-3 7-6.
Rusedski arrived at noon for his match having had, in his words, "a sort of lunch at breakfast time". This was followed by another lunch, and then a few power bars, the search for a flat space to lie down in and the hope that those ahead of him would get on with it.
His seven-hour wait finally terminated, Rusedski's agony began. The serve was again shaky - only four aces and six double faults - and the windinduced an extra cautionary factor into his thinking and moving. Instead of punching away the volleys and going for his returns, Greg was pushing them within reach of Medvedev.
So he was fortunate that the Ukrainian's form was a horror story. Medvedev never really recovered from dropping serve in the fifth game to a Rusedski forehand whichappeared to clip, or possibly just miss, the baseline. No call came, the game was awarded to Greg and Medvedevderided the decision loudly as "a f...ing joke", followed byseveral more decidedly audible obscenities which did not incur the deserved penalty.
Eventually Medvedev fell to cursing in Ukrainian andattempting to stem the Rusedski advance. He saved one set point with an ace but the first set was wrapped in 34 minutes and the second would rapidly have gone the same way if the British No 2 had not frittered away five break points.
There was a moment of alarm when Rusedski's continued fallibility on the smash and volley led him into danger and he had to scramble around to ward off three set points. That crisis survived, Greg belatedly assembled his skills in more or less recognisable order, briskly broke the Medvedev serve and clung on to his own delivery to march forward to a third-round meeting with the doughty Zimbabwean, Byron Black.
As Henman had done a couple of days earlier, Rusedski forecast some ugly, scuffling matches. "This place is a challenge. It's not always the person who plays the prettiest tennis here who ends up winning, it's the person whoperseveres and manages to hang in there."
Rusedski pronounced himself satisfied with the quality of his ailing backhand and volley, though some observers did not share his optimism, but he readily - and rather surprisingly - conceded his game is a long way from where he wants it to be, saying he was nowhere near the heights of 1997, when he was runner-up at the US Open.
Asked to nominate marks out of 10 for his serve, he replied: "Six-and-a-half to seven. It's just a question of practice now, but with the tennis I am playing right now I won't be able to win a Grand Slam. It's also harder to hit aces because every year the balls get slower.
"The trouble is, I just expect my serve to be there, the way it was towards the end of last year. It is like stepping into your car, you don't really think about it. Unfortunately, my gear shift is crackling around a little bit. I need to get an MOT. I know what I am doing wrong. I am tossing the ball a little too far in front and throwing myself off balance." Perhaps he will find a fair, following wind for today's clash with Black.
Having repeatedly refused to comment on whether he intends to play Davis Cup under Britain's new captain, Roger Taylor, Rusedski has now promised to issue a statement at the end of this tournament. He is a keen admirer of the ousted captain, David Lloyd, and there is much nervousness at the Lawn Tennis Association about Rusedski's intentions.
In good-humoured contrast, Patrick Rafter emphasised that his chief goal in also coming back from an operation, in his case on his shoulder, was to play Davis Cup for Australia. Having looked sharp in a 6-46-2 win over Max Mirnyi ofBelarus, the man who saw Rusedski off the premises at Indian Wells, Rafter stressed his main aim in getting fully match-fit was to help his country defend the trophy.
Results from the $5.76 million Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida:
Men Singles Second Round
(1) Andre Agassi (US) def. Andy Roddick (US) 6-2, 6-3. (2) Pete Sampras (US) def. Carlos Moya (Sp) 6-1, 6-4. (3) Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus) def. Guillermo Canas (Arg) 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Richard Fromberg (Aus) def. (4) Nicolas Kiefer (Ger) 6-4, 6-4. (5) Magnus Norman (Swe) def. Nicolas Massu (Chile) 6-4, 6-0. (6) Gustavo Kuerten (Bra) def. Arnaud Clement (Fr) 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-5. (7) Thomas Enqvist (Swe) def. Jim Courier (US) 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4. (8) Marcelo Rios (Chile) def. Michael Chang (US) 6-4, 6-4. (9) Nicolas Lapentti (Ecu) def. Xavier Malisse (Bel) 6-4, 6-4. (10) Tim Henman (GB) def. Agustin Calleri (Arg) 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4. (11) Cedric Pioline (Fr) def. Wayne Black (Zim) 7-6 (3), 6-3. Jiri Novak (Cz Rep) def. (12) Alex Corretja (Sp) 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1. Michel Kratochvil (Swit) def. (13) Albert Costa (Sp) 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. Felix Mantilla (Sp) def. Jerome Golmard (Fr) 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2. Andrei Pavel (Rom) def. Fabrice Santoro (Fr) 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5). Jan-Michael Gambill (US) def. Karim Alami, Morocco, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1. Mark Philippoussis (Aus) def. Cyril Saulnier (Fr) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Goran Ivanisevic (Cro) def. Vincent Spadea (US) 7-5, 6-2. Wayne Ferreira (SA) def. Hicham Arazi (Mor) 7-5, 6-3. Dominik Hrbaty (Slovak) def. Christophe Rochus (Bel) 6-1, 6-1. Nicolas Escude (Fr) def. Wayne Arthurs (Aus) 6-3, 6-3. Mariano Zabaleta (Arg) def. Roger Federer (Swit) 6-4, 7-6 (7). Gianluca Pozzi (It) def. Stefan Koubek (Aut) 7-6 (6), 6-1. George Bastl (Swit) def. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Sp) 7-6 (1), 6-4. Fernando Meligeni (Bra) def. Paul Goldstein (US) 7-5, 7-6 (5). Andreas Vinciguerra (Swe) def. Marat Safin (Rus) 1-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Doubles First Round
Simon Aspelin and Johan Landsberg (Swe) def. Marius Barnard and Chris Haggard (SA) 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Mariano Hood and Sebastian Prieto (Arg) def. Nuno Marques (Por) and Tom Vanhoudt (Bel) 7-6 (4), 7-5.Reuse content