Rusedski overpowers wounded 'Vladiator'

Blowing hot and cold like the weather on a day of sunshine and dark clouds, light rain and strong winds at the Samsung Open, Greg Rusedski moved into the semi-finals here last night. The British No 2 defeated Vladimir Voltchkov, of Belarus, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 in two and a quarter hours after trailing 5-2 in the final set.

This win, Rusedski's seventh in 10 matches since he began his comeback from a catalogue of injuries, means he will contest a final place today with a Moroccan qualifier, Hicham Arazi, whom he beat at Queen's Club last week. Arazi, by way of a warning, has already seen off one big-serving left-hander, beating Wayne Arthurs, of Australia, 6-4, 6-3 yesterday.

Rusedski, who said the conditions were the most blustery he had ever played in, finished strongly. Reeling off four successive games to force a second tie-break, he then raced into a 6-0 lead before prevailing. However, he had earlier toiled against an opponent whose mobility was impaired after he suffered an ankle injury in the third game of the last set.

"It was definitely a struggle," Rusedski admitted. "For a set and a half, he played the better tennis. But what satisfied me was my competitiveness. I found a way to dig it out. When you're not playing as well as you'd like and you win, that's a good sign. I also felt strong, like I could have gone on for another two sets.

"It's been a brilliant week for me, and I had my best Wimbledon after winning this tournament in 1997. It would be massive if I could reach the final in only my third event since the injuries. Less wind would be nice so I can serve better, but I can't control the gods."

Rusedski did not break Voltchkov until the ninth game of the third set, by which time the pair had been on court over two hours. Rusedski took a mere 11 points on Voltchkov's serve during the opening two sets, three from double faults, and did not have a break point until they had been playing for 90 minutes.

Since Voltchkov comes from Minsk, which is twinned with Nottingham, it was tempting to regard him, rather than the Canadian-born Rusedski, as the local boy. He quickly made himself at home, his thunderous serve making it difficult for Rusedski to come into the net. He broke in the third game, going on to take the first set inside half an hour.

Voltchkov is perhaps best remembered for his run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2000. He revealed his passion for the film Gladiator, prompting the inevitable nickname "Vladiator", and there were moments when it appeared Rusedski would be put to the sword.

Yet Rusedski dug into his reserves of resilience to earn a deciding set. With the Belarussian in discomfort after having strapping applied to his right foot, Rusedski at first seemed to lose concentration following a lengthy break for treatment to Voltchkov. He lost his next service game, but then regained his focus and began to serve better than at any time in the match and took the score to 5-5 with two consecutive aces.

The other semi-final pits the reigning champion, Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, against Mardy Fish, who is not a New York nightclub comic or an East Midlands insult but an American right-hander.

Fish overcame Alexander Popp, of Germany, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, while Bjorkman's opponent, Taylor Dent, withdrew with a minor back injury.

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