Rusedski on a mission to right the wrongs

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tennis' drugs scandal threatened to finish Greg Rusedski's career; now it is helping to prolong it. Rusedski previously considered retirement because injuries were so frequent; now a sense of injustice will ensure he hangs in as long as his body hangs together.

Tennis' drugs scandal threatened to finish Greg Rusedski's career; now it is helping to prolong it. Rusedski previously considered retirement because injuries were so frequent; now a sense of injustice will ensure he hangs in as long as his body hangs together.

Rusedski wants to show that although he competed while contaminated, he doesn't play dirty. He wants to remind us that he hasn't always been second best to Tim Henman. He doesn't want to be remembered as the player who launched the mouthful of vitriol against a Wimbledon umpire.

And most of all the Canadian-born Londoner doesn't want to be remembered as someone who, at the end of it all, still wasn't quite one of us.

"I've thought about the future, but I still want to do this tennis a bit longer," Rusedski says, but don't be deceived by the gentleness of the phrasing: he wants it with a passion. This is without doubt the most crucial Wimbledon of his career. He may not get another.

Those who think he cannot possibly attempt all this after what he has been through, forget what the Rusedskis have been through already. Father escaped Ukraine in the Soviet Union to come to Canada; son escaped a tennis backwater in Montreal and crossed the ocean in the other direction. Injustice, as he saw it, still followed him. Despite organising his life around the chance of glory at Wimbledon, living for more than a third of the year in England, and acquiring a British wife, many saw him as an opportunist.

Then there was the British coach, Tony Pickard, who abandoned him after a bust-up at Wimbledon. There was hysterical Henmania when he, Rusedski, was the one who had reached a Grand Slam final and won more tournaments. And there was his employer, the ATP, pursuing the drugs case against him when they might have let it drop.

Even now, after his innocence has been proven, some consider Rusedski fortunate not to have been banned. His defence was based on not knowing that the ATP were saying the supplements their trainers had given out were in fact unsafe. Could he have remained ignorant of that for a whole two months? The tribunal thought he could. But now to resurrect his career Rusedski needs wild cards, and lots of them, because he cannot re-climb the rankings unless he plays main tour tournaments. But can he trust the ATP to help him as much as he needs?

All this has been applying immense pressure to Rusedski on court. Acquitted by the Montreal tribunal on 10 March, he returned to competition with a misleadingly laid back win against a trainee fireman, Mike Scheidweiler, in the Davis Cup. A harsher reality soon clicked in.

Rusedski was beaten in straight sets by Bjorn Phau, a German ranked outside the top 150 - though he might have been able to convince himself this was Bermuda where things were still fairly relaxed. But it was followed by another straight sets loss in the sunshine, at San Remo to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, a Spaniard ranked little higher.

Then came a walloping from the Austrian, Jorgen Melzer, in St Polten, and a startling collapse to a young Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, at the French Open, where Rusedski lost the last 12 games in a row.

Rusedski's first victory since his drugs ordeal did not come until Surbiton in June, when he beat Todd Reid, a lowly ranked Australian by 7-6, 6-3. "I did not think I would have to wait that long for a win," he said. Indeed, it was not until last Tuesday that Rusedski managed a main tour victory, his first for five months. To achieve it, he needed to save a match point, before beating Karol Kucera at Nottingham. "It looked grim at one stage but that's tennis for you," he said. "You've just got to hang in there. I was not happy with my game, but it was the sort of match I needed to win." He wasn't exaggerating. Had he lost that match point he would have plunged to around 200 in the world rankings. It is hard to believe there would have be any comeback from that.

Instead, his future hangs by a thread, or perhaps by a very good Wimbledon. Rusedski has sought inspiration from Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001 with a wild card, without a win in months, and with an arm falling off. At least Rusedski's arm is in good shape. "They said Goran would never manage to fulfil his potential and he managed it," said Rusedski. "So there's hope for me yet."

Possibly more than he realises. His legacy to British tennis is less doubtful than he may fear. Rusedski has done his share of promoting the game and to some people he has been pretty British ever since he won the BBC sports personality of the year award in 1997.

Others became convinced he was genuine after he left the National Indoor Arena close to tears after narrowly losing to Jim Courier in the Davis Cup in 1999; many more so after his victory over Nicolas Lapentti in 2001 helping to get Great Britain back into the World Group.

Then there was the Buxton water advert, last year's sequel to the foul-mouthed haranguing of Lars Graff.

As the umpire washed out Rusedski's mouth, the player joked: "Thank you, I needed that." How much Rusedski would give to be saying that for real in a couple of week's time.