Rusedski arrives home on journey to uncertain future

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The Independent Online

The old home town looked the same,

The old home town looked the same,

As [Rusedski] stepped down from the plane,

And there to greet him was the driver of a limo.

Apart from an acute sense of irony and destiny, it was difficult to stretch the theme of the nostalgic Tom Jones song further, because when the 30-year-old Greg Rusedski looked down the road he saw that the green, green grass was covered in white, white snow and the streets in grey, grey slush.

With the temperature at -6C here at 6.10pm on Saturday, Rusedski was at least prepared for the weather, as was his wife, Lucy. By all accounts, Britain's No 2 tennis player also has done his homework before defending himself against a positive test for the steroid nandrolone when he faces a private ATP Tour tribunal today that could effectively end his career.

After the Rusedskis had cleared customs and emerged into the arrivals hall, causing hardly a stir of recognition among a throng of people waiting to greet relatives and friends, the limo driver guided them and Rusedski's legal team, Mark Gay and David Pannick, in a snaking path through the crowd towards the exit.

Your correspondent was literally hard on their heels - twice clipping Mr Pannick QC with my luggage trolley in the rush to catch up with the defendant. By now a television camera crew had joined the pursuit, but the Rusedskis and the lawyers reached the limo before a question could be asked.

As the luggage was being loaded, your correspondent asked Mr Gay QC where the group would be staying. "I don't know," he replied. "A secret location." He added, with a half-smile, "It could be Vancouver." I then greeted Mr Pannick, who responded with "Yes, you nearly ran me down twice". But at least he did not reach for his card and threaten to sue me. There was barely time for a handshake with Rusedski before they sped off into the night and towards an uncertain future.

Rusedski tested positive for nandrolone at an ATP tournament in Indianapolis on 23 July last year. His sample was processed at a laboratory here in Montreal. If found guilty, he could be banned from tennis for two years.

Seven other players failed tests for nandrolone from August 2002 to May 2003. All seven were let off after the ATP admitted its own trainer may have been to blame, having unwittingly handed out banned substances in supplements or to treat players' problems.

In accordance with an ATP confidentiality clause, only one of the seven players was named, the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach. Initially banned for two years, fined £30,000 and docked 100 ranking points, Ulihrach was later cleared when the ATP admitted its error.

Although Rusedski tested positive two months after the ATP had instructed trainers to stop distributing possibly contaminated vitamin and nutritional products to players, and warned players about the situation, his test showed the same analytical fingerprint, suggesting a common source of contamination.

Rusedski's parents, Tom and Helen, both 57, live in Kingston, Ontario, midway between Montreal and Toronto. His mother was born in Yorkshire, giving Greg British and Canadian nationality. His father, a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, was the driving force behind Greg's tennis career. A brother, Bill, lives in Montreal, as do many members of his extended family.

There was a good deal of rancour in Canada after Rusedski pledged his allegiance to British tennis in 1995, but the negative feelings towards him had begun to subside before "the British tennis player", as some cynics refer to him, stunned the sport last month by confirming he had tested positive.

Beset by injury problems in recent seasons, Rusedski has not had much encouraging news of late. As he packed his bags at the weekend for the journey home to Canada, he lost his half-share in the fastest serve ever recorded. The American Andy Roddick, whose name had stood alongside Rusedski's with a delivery timed at 149mph, cracked the 150mph barrier with the first serve of his match against Stefan Koubek, of Austria, in a Davis Cup tie in Uncasville, Connecticut. Roddick also hit a serve of 150.875mph in the eighth game.

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