Rusedski presents his case but the wait goes on

Tribunal closes after eight-hour hearing as British No 2 fights his corner following positive drugs test
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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski was already packed and ready to leave here last night before he went to face an independent tribunal that will decide whether or not he will be banned for up to two years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.

Eight hours later, he was on his way to the airport without making any comment, leaving the question of guilt or innocence hanging in the air until the ATP Tour release a statement.

Rusedski had looked mildly apprehensive as he waited for transport to take him to the 9am hearing from his hotel, the St Paul, conjuring images of a blinding light on the road to Damascus. The British No 2's demeanour was not surprising. Ahead lay an ordeal far different from approaching a match at a tournament, even one at Wimbledon. "I'm just preparing myself,'' he said, while waiting for his lawyers to join him at reception.

Rusedski resembled a well heeled young city executive in his dark lounge suit and burgundy tie. His wife, Lucy, was dressed in a smart black trouser suit. One point that has not been highlighted in the events surrounding Rusedski so far is the toll they have taken on Lucy. They met when she was a ball girl at one of his tournaments long before he elected to leave Montreal and to play for Britain, where his mother was born, in 1995.

The secrecy surrounding the hearing, which was organised by the ATP, the governing body of the men's tour, had been maintained in accordance with the ATP's confidentiality clause in such matters. But only to a point. Yesterday the media was in attendance for Rusedski in "court''.

Two Chrysler Concorde limousines with darkened windows waited to take Rusedski, Lucy, and his two QCs, Mark Gay and David Pannick, to the offices of the tribunal's arbiter, Yves Fortier, a Montreal QC with the firm Ogilvy Renault on the 11th to 13th floor.

Fortier, who recently broke a leg skiing, does not have as much time for leisure activities as he would like, having been involved in national and international cases for the majority of his lengthy, distinguished career. All the parties involved, including a doctor and an anti-drug expert, one nominated by each side, expected a one-day hearing. Fortier has another engagement today, and Gay and Pannick, like Rusedski and Lucy, had their luggage ready to leave and catch a flight back to London last night.

Rusedski, who broke the ATP's confidentiality clause by announcing in Australia last month that he had tested positive at an ATP tournament in Indianapolis on 23 July last year, has insisted that he is innocent. He broke his silence under pressure from the media after rumours gained momentum.

He claims that he has been singled out from among 47 other players who have tested positive for nandrolone since August 2002. Thirty-six of those players were below the limit for punishment, seven were exonerated, and three others, who Rusedski's legal team say were tested between last May and August, have not been accounted for.

The samples of the seven players who were let off had the same analytical fingerprint as Rusedski's test. The ATP said the seven may have been given possibly contaminated products by the ATP trainers, emphasising that the trainers had been instructed to stop distributing products to players since May last year.

Rusedski's lawyers provided extensive documentary evidence on their client's behalf, and a 1,400-word statement issued by Rusedski the day after he confirmed the positive test was a comprehensive catalogue of reasons why he believed he had done no wrong. His lawyers' position as they approached the hearing was that he had told the truth and it was up to the arbiter, Fortier, to decide whether he had or had not wittingly taken a banned substance.

Fortier's report on his findings at the tribunal is due to be sent to the ATP, who will then be responsible for making any subsequent announcement. At lunchtime yesterday, Fortier's secretary, Micheline Corriveaux, told reporters: "The hearing will be concluded today but Mr Rusedski and his lawyers and the members of the tribunal have agreed that there will be no statement today."

If the charge is upheld, Rusedski will have 21 days to lodge an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Rusedski came to Britain ostensibly to compete for his adopted nation in the Davis Cup. Yesterday he heard that Britain's next match would be in Luxembourg in the second round of the Euro-African Zone in April. Though confident of his innocence, he had no idea whether he would be able to fulfil that obligation, or any other in tennis for that matter.

The case has not created much of a stir here, where ice hockey is the passion and Rusedski has been cast in the role of a tennis defector.

Pat Hickey, one of Canada's most experienced sportswriters, put his countrymen's view of Rusedski in The Gazette yesterday. "Understanding Greg Rusedski has never been an easy matter,'' Hickey wrote. "On one level he is personable and intelligent. He was a good student at Lower Canada College despite the fact that he missed some classes because of his tennis commitments. I can recall a time in the early 1990s when Rusedski was selected the top tennis player in Quebec. He was unable to attend the annual gala because he was on the ATP tour, but left behind a videotape message entirely in French.

"Rusedski learned another language when he moved to England. When he returned to Canada for the 1995 Canadian Open, his speech was peppered with references to brollies, lifts and the telly.''