Rusedski marches on to battle of big servers

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The Independent Online

Abnormal service will resume in SW19 tomorrow when Greg Rusedski faces Andy Roddick in the battle of the biggest servers in the history of the game.

Rusedski, who set the 149mph record in 1998, progressed to the second-round showdown yesterday with a clinical straight sets win, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 over Alexander Waske, of Germany. Roddick, who equalled the 149mph mark at Queen's a fortnight ago, overcame Davide Sanguinetti to join him.

"It's a great feeling to get through my first match," Rusedski said after yesterday's win, which earned him a standing ovation from the No1 Court crowd. "People understand what I've been through," he added, referring to his catalogue of injuries in the past year.

"It's a great feeling to win another match when people didn't think I'd make it back at all. Now I'm looking forward to the match [with Roddick], when I'll need to raise my level again."

Asked if he or Roddick might break the 150mph barrier, Rusedski said: "He can have the record as long as I continue in the tournament."

Rusedski's meeting with Waske, the big-hitting but temperamental world No 114, was always likely to be decided on a few big points and one player's ability to hold his nerve during tie-breaks. So it proved.

In the first-set tie-break, Waske held set point at 6-5 with Rusedski serving. The British No 2 won the point with a well-directed volley tucked in behind his opponent. Waske could do little to retrieve it and ended up slipping when he tried. Rusedski produced an ace - one of 31 he served in the match - for 7-6 and then secured a mini-break and took the set with a powerful cross-court backhand.

This was not an especially attractive match to watch. It was powerful, functional fare and never likely to produce many rallies. The same can be expected tomorrow. The important thing for Rusedski, still effectively on the comeback trail after nine months out injured, is that he looked comfortable, played within himself and showed fluidity of movement around the court. It could be that his time away has left him feeling fresher after his enforced rest as opposed to rusty through lack of matches.

Rusedski's athleticism was the key to the second set, which was settled when he secured the only break of serve in the entire match to take it. The break came in the 12th game. The winner was an impressive enough shot in itself -- a backhand down the line - but it was Rusedski's movement to reach the shot and his reading of the game to place it that caught the eye.

The third and final set went to another tie-break. Again Rusedski showed nerve. He let one match point slip and saved a set point against him before holding two serves and forcing a mini-break to take the tie-break 9-8.

And so to tomorrow's match with Roddick, the last man to beat Rusedski when he triumphed in the last 16 at Queen's by two sets to one. Both players took something from that match. Rusedski saw the fact that he had won a set off the American as evidence he was really finding his form again. He then won his next five matches to take the Samsung Open title in Nottingham.

Roddick viewed the Queen's match as evidence of progress against a man who beat him last year at Wimbledon. "It was pretty big for me to go through and take out some of the people that I had struggled with before," Roddick said yesterday of his success in the Stella Artois.

To say that he struggled here against Rusedski last year is something of an understatement. Roddick took just nine games as he lost in straight sets to the Briton in the third round. Asked yesterday if there was anything from that match that he could use to his advantage tomorrow, he said: "Yeah, selective memory. Try to forget it."

Of their meeting here tomorrow, he added: "I think it's a tough draw for both of us. It's probably worthy of being a quarter-final match. But I'm ready, I feel good. And I'm confident that he's going to have to play a good match to beat me. Who knows what's going to happen but I feel good right now."

While Rusedski progressed, the first British elimination came at 2.11pm yesterday when Alan Makin, a wild card, bowed out to Flavio Saretta of Brazil in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Makin was followed through the gates of the All England Club by Lucie Ahl, who put up a spirited performance against Ai Sugiyama, of Japan, but lost 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. The next Briton to depart was Arvind Parmar, who lost in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, to Sjeng Schalken, the No 8 seed.