Rusedski silences his critics by breaking American jinx

HAVING saved four match points and exorcised the spectre of Todd Martin in advancing to the semi-finals of the Eurocard Open, Greg Rusedski justifiably gave a leap of joy. America's Mr Nice Guy had once again transformed himself into Jack Nicholson in demonic mode, but yesterday Rusedski refused to be sacrificed.

HAVING saved four match points and exorcised the spectre of Todd Martin in advancing to the semi-finals of the Eurocard Open, Greg Rusedski justifiably gave a leap of joy. America's Mr Nice Guy had once again transformed himself into Jack Nicholson in demonic mode, but yesterday Rusedski refused to be sacrificed.

Keen to stop the constant questioning about his capitulation against Martin after leading by two sets and 5-3 in the fourth round of the United States Open - let alone the straight sets defeat in the Davis Cup tie in Birmingham - Rusedski showed magnificent fortitude in winning 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.

It was only the second time he has defeated Martin in their eight matches (the other win was on an indoor carpet court in Vienna in 1997), but few of the British No 1's successes have been as sweet as this one.

Rusedski was out-served and generally out-played in the opening set, during which Martin broke for 4-3 and dropped only three points on his serve. The American won 19 consecutive service points, from double-faulting on the opening point of the sixth game of the first set to being beaten by a Rusedski volley at 40-0 in the fourth game of the second set.

From that moment, Rusedski's confidence returned and his game began to lift, but Martin's serve remained steady all the way to a remarkable tie-break.

On the first point Martin passed Rusedski down the line for a mini-break. Rusedski responded with a backhand volley for 1-2 and held for 3-2. A netted backhand for 3-5 appeared to be Rusedski's undoing, but he produced a saving backhand return on Martin's first match point at 4-6.

Rusedski erased the second match point with a service winner and found the corner with a forehand to create his first set-point at 7-6. Martin survived that and Rusedski missed with a service return to offer the American a third match point at 7-8. Rusedski's 15th ace levelled at 8-8, before his 16th ace gave him a second set point.

This time Martin found the line with a forehand, then a service winner gave him a fourth match point at 9-10. A forehand block-volley from Rusedski levelled at 10-10. His 17th ace brought the reward of a third set point, with Martin serving, and Rusedski converted it with a forehand pass for 12-10.

Rusedski broke Martin in the opening game of the third set and from then on was immovable, taking his ace tally to 22. Serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30, he was beaten by Martin's forehand return on his first match point. Having lured Martin into netting a backhand, Rusedski finished the job after two hours and 11 minutes with a service winner.

"For Todd it was a place in Hanover; for me it was regaining pride after the US Open match," Rusedski said.

In today's semi-finals Rusedski will play the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, who defeated Mariano Zabaleta, of Argentina, 6-3,6-2. Andre Agassi will meet Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, who defeated Marcelo Rios of Chile 6-4,6-2.

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