Rusedski march ending with a shuffle to retirement

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The Independent Online

The fact that Greg Rusedski will be marking his 31st birthday tomorrow at home in London rather than among the shot and shell of the US Open will certainly have been a matter of serious consideration, because serious consideration (no, make that microscopic consideration) is what Rusedski gives the appearance of applying to every one of his actions, on and off court.

The fact that Greg Rusedski will be marking his 31st birthday tomorrow at home in London rather than among the shot and shell of the US Open will certainly have been a matter of serious consideration, because serious consideration (no, make that microscopic consideration) is what Rusedski gives the appearance of applying to every one of his actions, on and off court.

He will not deny that a life off court is growing more appealing with every passing defeat on it, and there has been talk from Rusedski himself of making next year, his 14th as a professional, the final one. If the decision to bring forward that date to the end of the 2004 season has not been considered, then it should be.

After a 2003 wrecked by yet more injuries and operations, the end product of a body abused by years of pounding his trademark booming serve, Rusedski's 2004 was torpedoed from the very start by drug-abuse charges. Though he was cleared of these at a tribunal held in his home town of Montreal in March, subsequent comments by Wada, the World Anti-Doping Agency, indicate that the last may not have been heard yet of the strange cases of tennis players and nandrolone levels.

Through all this time of anxiety Rusedski struggled to deliver the only thing that matters in professional sport, wins. Notwithstanding his tournament victory on grass in a moderate field at Newport, Rhode Island, in July, the 14th title of his career and also the scene of his first success in 1993, it has been a dismal year for the 6ft 4in Canadian-turned-Briton, especially at the Grand Slams.

Rusedski won one match at Wimbledon and went out in the first round of the three other majors, the worst-ever statistic in any of the years he played all four Slams, and after failing to survive the US Open's first day his record for the year is won 16, lost 12.

The facts that he was once ranked four in the world and is a former runner-up at the US Open have to be tempered with the statistic that both landmarks came seven years ago, when he was serving harder than anyone else. He is also in that all-too-familiar drowning-not-waving position of someone whose career is on the downward path attempting to climb back up the slippery pole of the world rankings. And since high rankings deter-mine acceptance into many of the top events, Rusedski has been forced to grasp at the straw of wild cards to get him in.

None has been forthcoming, except in Britain during the summer, and he is deeply ticked off about this. He says he was promised by the ATP's chief executive, Mark Miles, that the organisation would speak to tournaments about Greg. But, it seems, the tournaments are not keen on a near-31-year-old with a declining game and a hard-luck story. At the Cincinnati Masters Series event recently both the ATP and Rusedski's agents, IMG, put in a word about a card. To no avail.

Rusedski has taken this hard. "The ATP have done absolutely nothing for me," he complained after his first-round loss at Flushing Meadows to Cyril Saulnier of France, one of that nation's lesser talents. "They haven't kept their word. Mark Miles... says it's not his problem, but it's time they got their act together. I've had enough of the way I've been treated."

Rusedski was particularly incensed at not being awarded a wild card into either the Washington or Long Island events before the US Open, having qualified for Cincinnati and won two rounds. Perhaps, after microscopic consideration, he has convinced himself that an absence from these tournaments was a factor in the loss to Saulnier, ignoring the other, more serious, flaws, namely that the man who once held the world record for serving at 149mph hit only the same number of aces as a clay-court specialist and, more pertinently, that he held, and missed, two match points.

Where Rusedski once excelled, and where he was regularly more successful than Tim Henman, was in finishing off a match when the chance arose, and sometimes in hostile circumstances. He crushed Germany's Tommy Haas in the Grand Slam Cup final in Munich in 1999, and a year earlier defeated the crowd favourite, Pete Sampras, at the Paris Masters Series indoor final. Both were exhilarating wins, brilliantly achieved.

That sort of play is now beyond him, replaced by his latest idiotic affectations, the tendency to walk around court with a towel dangling from his teeth, for all the world like a labrador attempting to please. That towel is still used to pass across his face, in a near-mop swish, after almost every point, irrespective of the weather, and spectators still suffer the endless retying of shoelaces, and the routine slowness in getting out of his chair when the umpire calls time.

For one, mercifully brief, spell, Rusedski even used to go out to warm up for a match and then, before the first point, take a toilet break. As Tomas Smid pointed out: "I played tennis 20 years and never once needed to take a pee."

Always a believer in minding the cents, Rusedski is currently making his way without a coach. Nor, as he prepares the story of his life for publication, does he feel the employment of a ghost writer is necessary. His wife, Lucy, is taking care of that. Greg Rusedski should give microscopic consideration to whether the final chapter looms.

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