Rusedski seeks compensation after six months of 'depression'

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski told how he and his wife, Lucy, were watching the film Titanic on television in a holiday hotel room in Cairo when the telephone rang and he heard that he had been cleared of a doping charge that threatened to end his career.

Greg Rusedski told how he and his wife, Lucy, were watching the film Titanic on television in a holiday hotel room in Cairo when the telephone rang and he heard that he had been cleared of a doping charge that threatened to end his career.

"The ship hadn't gone down yet, thank God," Rusedski said, beaming.

It became clear yesterday, however, at Rusedski's media conference at Queen's Club, London, that the months ahead are not going to be plain sailing for the player or the Association of Tennis Professionals, the governing body of the men's Tour, who took the Rusedski case to a tribunal in Montreal on 9 February.

Rusedski and his lawyer, Mark Gay, have opened negotiations with the ATP concerning the question of compensation for the "horrendous experience" the British No 2 was subjected to in the six months after he heard that he had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone at a Tour event in Indianapolis last September.

Although Rusedski did not reveal if he was seeking a financial settlement - "we haven't really got to that, but once we know the agreement then we'll figure it out and go from there" - he emphasised that the ATP "have to be able to do something to get my career back". That may mean boosting Rusedski's tournament entry ranking, which has slumped to 100, and giving him access to wild cards.

"I hope our discussions [with the ATP] will be resolved in the next two days to a week, because I need to get on with my tennis."

Rusedski announced that he wanted to be involved, along with Henman and Andre Agassi, the American former world No 1, in the ATP's "Task Force" of current and former players, administrators and pharmaceutical scientists, formed to address the drugs issue.

"Players need to understand what's going on and need someone to be able to communicate to," Rusedski said. "I think it's very important that we resolve this together. I don't think any other players should be put in the situation I was put in until we know what was wrong.

"If I can get involved, I can talk to players and tell them what the situation's been like, tell them about the precautions, and just help them out as much as I can. We need a support there for the players to get through this."

The first meeting of the "Task Force" is scheduled for Miami next Tuesday, during the Nasdaq Open, which is no longer on Rusedski's itinerary.

Rusedski said his first tentative steps back into the game would be on the practice courts and that he hoped to be able to contribute to Britain's Davis Cup tie in Luxembourg over the Easter weekend, "in singles, doubles, as a hitting partner, or just as a cheerleader".

Jeremy Bates, Britain's captain, needs more than a baton-twirler to support Tim Henman as Britain begin their campaign to climb out of the Euro-African Zone and back into the World Group. "The best place for Greg now is on the tennis court," Bates said, "and if he is fit, I want him in the team."

Rusedski was free to compete while awaiting the hearing and then the tribunal's decision. But he only participated in this year's Tour events in Adelaide and Sydney and at the Australian Open, in Melbourne, after confirming, under pressure from media rumours, that he had tested positive. He could argue that the resulting media frenzy made it impossible for him to concentrate on his game.

Protesting at the time that he had been singled out unfairly, Rusedski said that 46 of his fellow professionals ranked in the world top 120 had also given elevated readings of nandrolone, and with the same "analytical fingerprint" as his own test sample.

Six players whose cases had been dealt with under the ATP Tour's confidentiality clause were let off and were not named. A seventh player, the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach, was suspended and then reinstated. All seven contended that the products they took may have been distributed to them by ATP trainers.

After attending the three-man tribunal hearing in Montreal, Rusedski had to wait a month for the decision. He was exonerated "because of the unique circumstances of the case and the unique circumstances pertaining in tennis".

The ATP said its trainers had stopped distributing supplements and had warned players not to take them two months before Rusedski tested positive. But the tribunal decided that, "The ATP could have - and should have - taken steps to notify its players in a 'meaningful' and 'direct' way of the reasons for its decision to cease distributing the electrolyte tablets that it had previously handed out so freely."

Asked yesterday if he knew where and when he took the product containing nandrolone, Rusedski said: "I've tested all the products that I've taken, and all of them turned up negative. I've been taking those products for years. I did take electrolytes and other ATP products as well and that's what the tribunal said they believe caused my positive test.

"I took them during the tournament in Indianapolis, and most of the summer as well."

So the products were still being distributed by the ATP? "They hadn't made a full recall on everything. And also they had not contacted me personally to tell me, because I had been injured during most of that time. I hadn't been playing for most of the year."

Were the tablets he took fresh tablets? "They were not fresh tablets, but they were tablets from the ATP.

"That's the whole story of the issue. The decision of the tribunal is unequivocal. The situation is not about doping, it's about players being contaminated. And unfortunately the contamination has come from the governing body, because it would be humanly impossible to have that many cases."

Had the verdict created a loophole for potential cheats to exploit in the future? "No, I don't think this is a loophole at all. This is an exceptional circumstance. There is not another governing body that is handing out supplements. The strict liability rule will always be there."

How did he respond to the cynicism in certain quarters that greeted the verdict? "I don't really think there should be cynicism, because these people that are sitting on the tribunal have sat on tribunals for all other sport in the world, and they've realised that it was an exceptional circumstance. I don't think there's a rule for tennis players. You are talking about people who sit on CAS [Committee of a Arbitration for Sport] and are associated with Wada [World Anti-doping Agency]."

At this point Lucy Rusedski interjected. "In what sport do you ever see a unique fingerprint?" she said. "You cannot take away from that fact in this case, and in tennis."

Lucy added: "The last six months have been very tough, because Greg found it extremely difficult to cope with this. It was completely out of our control. But I was like a woman possessed, and from day one I went to the lawyers and Mark [Gay] has been very kind to include me in every single stage of the proceedings, and I've been very active."

"I'm here today, and I look reasonably strong and confident," said Rusedski. "But Lucy was there for me. When you turn off the cameras and the journalists aren't sitting there, her strength has been amazing. Lots of people didn't see the ups and downs, the lows of depression, all sorts of situations that I was going through in those six months, and having to put up this public front that I'm doing OK. I couldn't have got through this without Lucy. She's been my rock."