Rusedski remains defiant over test as Cash stirs hostility

Greg Rusedski remained defiant yesterday, claiming he had the support of fellow players as he seeks to clear his name after testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone.

Greg Rusedski remained defiant yesterday, claiming he had the support of fellow players as he seeks to clear his name after testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone.

"I've had nothing but support from people, even in the locker room," the British No 2 said in a statement. "I've been particularly pleased by the players' reactions. They've been very positive and sympathetic towards me."

Rusedski admitted last week to the positive test, which relates to a sample taken at a tournament in Indianapolis in July. He subsequently issued a lengthy defence, claiming the steroid originated in a nutritional supplement handed out by trainers on the ATP men's tour.

The Canadian-born Briton, who faces an anti-doping tribunal in Montreal next month, claimed he was being unfairly singled out. He said 47 other players had been exonerated because their tests showed an unexplained "common analytical fingerprint".

The ATP has admitted that trainers may have unwittingly given banned substances to players, and lifted a two-year ban on the Czech Republic's Bohdan Ulihrach for a nandrolone offence. But the ATP's David Higden said yesterday that trainers stopped giving out supplements last May, two months before Rusedski failed his drugs test.

Asked whether the former US Open finalist would be able to prove his innocence, Higden replied: "We would have to determine whether Rusedski's case occurred before that time [May 2003]." He added: "We feel our drugs-testing programme is stellar and comprehensive, and internationally recognised as one of the top testing programmes."

Rusedski released his latest statement as he prepared to play Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela today in the first round of the Sydney International, a warm-up event for the Australian Open. Ironically, Chela was suspended for three months in 2001 after testing positive for a banned substance.

Among players expressing support yesterday was Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, the former world No 1, who said: "You can't find a guy guilty until he's actually proven guilty." Hewitt told a press conference in Sydney: "He's playing here and in Melbourne. I'd say hello to him. I'm not that close to Greg, but I wouldn't ignore him or anything."

But that sympathy is not shared by Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion who coached Rusedski for six months in 2001 before an acrimonious split over money. Cash wrote in a Sunday newspaper yesterday that his stint as the 30-year-old's coach "did more than any other experience to make me doubt my faith in human nature".

Cash wrote: "There will be few tears shed in the world of tennis over the predicament of Greg Rusedski. Few characters can be as complex. Self- absorbed, yet extreme in his desire to be liked. Hearing his pained insistence of innocence only brings back agonising reminders of the unpleasant time I spent as his coach.

"When something goes wrong in Greg's career, he has to find somebody else to blame," he added. "Loyalty has never been his strong point. Greg has no friends among his fellow players. I found it difficult to get others to practise with him."

The debate about the ATP's contaminated supplements took a new twist yesterday after David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the conclusion that they might be responsible for the flurry of positive nandrolone tests lacked "rigour and scientific certainty".

Howman said the agency was disturbed that the ATP had exonerated players who had two to four times the permissible level of nandrolone in their bodies on the basis of that finding. "Our concern is that the theory they developed, and on the basis of which they have exonerated these players, may be incorrect," he said.

Howman added that if the source was not the supplements provided by trainers, another common source was likely and that source might be more sinister. He said Wada was carrying out its own, independent evaluation of the failed tests, but those results would not be available for about two weeks.

Rusedski, who faces a possible two-year ban, is free to play on until the Montreal hearing. He plans to compete at the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne a week today. He said he was looking forward to playing in Sydney this week. "I want to concentrate on my game of tennis right now," he said. "That is what I do for a living, and that is why I am in Australia."

In Sydney, he has been taken under the wing of David Lloyd, the former British Davis Cup captain, who arranged for him to stay at his hotel rather than the official tournament headquarters.

Lloyd wrote in a Sunday newspaper: "I would stake my life that Greg has not deliberately taken a performanceenhancing drug. In my experience, he is one of the most honest men I have ever known."

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