Rusedski blames early defeat on rest day refusal

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The Independent Online

You would have thought that British tennis was short enough of international contenders to wrap its leading players in copious amounts of cotton wool. Greg Rusedski, however, had sharp words for the organisers of the Stella Artois Championships here last night after they failed to heed his request for a Tuesday start.

The British No 1 injured his right hip in practice last week and told Ian Wight, the tournament director, that an extra day could be vital to his recovery. Instead Rusedski was required to play yesterday and at 3-2 down in the final set against Antony Dupuis, a Frenchman ranked 126 places beneath him, was forced to retire hurt.

"An extra 24 hours would have made a massive difference to me," Rusedski said. "I'm absolutely disappointed that they wouldn't listen to a word I said. You'd think they would want to help their British players do well here instead of hinder them. It's not as if they couldn't put me on first match on Tuesday. It's not a big deal to give me an extra 24 hours."

Wight said he was disappointed to hear about Rusedski's injury but felt he had made the right decision, bearing in mind other scheduling requests he had received. Rusedski will have the hip scanned before deciding whether to play at Nottingham next week, though he expects to be fit for Wimbledon in a fortnight's time.

Andre Agassi's sights have been set on Wimbledon for several months now ­ the American skipped the entire clay-court season to give his troublesome back the best chance of making it to the All England Club ­ but the manner of his 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Tim Henman did little for his spirits.

In only his ninth match since losing to Roger Federer in last year's US Open final, errors flowed regularly from Agassi's racket. The 36-year-old's acclaimed return of serve looked decidedly ordinary and his game lacked the spark and imagination that have made him one of the best players of his generation.

The final point summed up his day. Henman wrong-footed Agassi, who slid on the grass, landed on his backside and turned round to watch Henman's winning forehand fly past him.

Was he still committed to playing at Wimbledon? "Health was my biggest issue and if everything holds up that would be my plan," he said. " But for the last year or so it's been a week-to-week proposition for me, usually for physical reasons. I'll just have to get over the disappointment of this start and make my decisions from there."

Henman's career has also been threatened by a bad back, but after changing his training regime and modifying his game the 31-year-old Briton is feeling more confident than he has for nearly two years.

Although he is No 76 in the world and will be unseeded at Wimbledon, Henman has put together several promising results of late and was heartened by this display, which earned a second-round match against Paraguay's Ramon Delgado. He was sensibly cautious about approaching the net against a passer of Agassi's calibre and his baseline game was in good shape.

"On the whole I did a good job of trying to set the tone and making sure that I was the one dictating the play," Henman said. "It gives me something to build on."

The British No 6, Martin Lee, playing his first ATP Tour match for three years, lost in straight sets to Spain's Fernando Vicente, while Andy Murray, who played doubles last night with Sébastien Grosjean, meets Janko Tipsarevic today. Rafael Nadal had his first practice session last night, barely 24 hours after successfully defending his French Open title, and plays tomorrow against either Mardy Fish or Jamie Baker.

Baker is one of only seven British players ­ alongside Alex Bodganovic, Richard Bloomfield, Sarah Borwell, Anne Keothavong, Katie O'Brien and Melanie Smith ­ who have wild cards into the Wimbledon singles. Two more will be granted after play-off matches.

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