Rusedski restates British credentials

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The Independent Online

It all depends on the result. Like inhabitants of wartime Alsace-Lorraine, Greg Rusedski must recognise that his nationality is based on winning or losing.

It is 10 years since Rusedski professed his allegiance to the Queen, and he was back where it all started at Wimbledon yesterday, on the No 2 court where he lost as a young man to Stefan Edberg.

If there was any slight intended with an appointment outside the two main show courts none was taken. Rusedski insisted it was an opportunity to perform in front of the nearest Wimbledon gets to blue collar workers.

"From now on I don't think I will be playing on Court No 2," he said. "Sampras lost his last match there and a lot of good players have been on it. They [the fans] realise my commitment to Davis Cup and representing Britain in the Olympics. Becoming part of the furniture. I think I have helped Tim [Henman] with our rivalry. It has been an exciting 10 years. There are no regrets."

Rusedski has done as much as he can to immerse himself in all things English. He supports Arsenal, enjoys James Bond films and collects 007 memorabilia, and his pets are Henry and Winston, short-haired pedigree cats. He owns an E-type Jaguar and opens its door for his British wife, Lucy, the former ball girl he met when he was 17.

Yet there remains the whiff of moose and the Mounties about him. It takes little trouble to imagine the big smile among the Giant Redwood, the fir and the mighty Scots Pine, leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia.

The former Canadian emerged into the sunlight to an environs by reputation the graveyard of champions. For the domestic squadron that title actually pertained to court No 18, where both Anne Keothavong and Rebecca Llewellyn were dismissed.

Rusedski's pigeon-toed entrance, with his racket bag worn like a rucksack, was greeted warmly. Union flags and the cross of St George were unfurled in the stands with not a maple leaf in sight. It was a good day to be Greg, as put before him was the diminutive clay-courter Alberto Martin, who had been beaten in his previous six matches. If ever he wanted an opponent served up on a plump velvet cushion this was it.

The Spaniard soon found he was hunting grizzly with a popgun. Rusedski started with an ace and won his first game to love. Then it was into the old routine, fiddling with his laces and having a comfort towel ferried from the back of the court between points.

Rusedski lost a set when his concentration and service wandered, but ultimately it was a breeze at 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. He remains a Brit for now.

The victory for David Sherwood was greeted as the first success for a Yorkshireman since Roger Taylor, which once again raised a question about Rusedski's true nationality. Greg qualified as a Brit because his mother, Helen, was born in Dewsbury. Which then is his adopted county?

Sherwood's win was also a triumph for sporting genes as he is a product of the union between John and Sheila Sherwood, both Olympic medallists at Mexico City. The elder Sherwood's finest moment is immortalised by a quote in which he did not actually appear. As the finishers crossed the line in the 400m hurdles that day in 1968, David Coleman observed: "Hemery first, Hennige second and who cares who's third?" Well, John Sherwood actually.

This was the son's first Wimbledon singles match, as a wildcard, and he had previously lost all four of his doubles encounters. But the former bad boy, who was expelled from the LTA set-up in the days when his temper used to get the better of him, brought the substantial gifts of a big serve and wide wingspan to play.

Sherwood partnered Andrew Murray to a memorable doubles win in Tel Aviv that heralded Davis Cup victory against Israel in February, to establish his big-match credentials. Yet he also suffered a bout of tonsillitis two weeks ago, during which he lost almost a stone. As he brought a world ranking of 260 against an opponent ranked 54 the omens were not greatly portentous. But, after one hour and 45 minutes, Ricardo Mello of Brazil was beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

There were 11 British players to be counted out on the first day, and the first trail of black smoke came at 13.33 when Keothavong was downed 6-3, 6-4 by Mariana Diaz-Oliva of Argentina. The list of the fallen continued when Llewellyn delayed Svetlana Kuznetsova, a quarter-finalist two years ago, 42 minutes as she departed 6-0, 6-1.

Alex Bogdanovic sparked briefly before going down to Kevin Kim of the United States 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Josh Goodall lost 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to Italy's Alessio Di Mauro. Sarah Borwell also found American opposition too much as she exited 7-6, 6-3 to Shenay Perry. The young Scot Alan Mackin succumbed 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to Chile's Fernando Gonzalez.