Rusedski steals into final as thief makes merry

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The Independent Online

As Greg Rusedski was stealing a march on his Moroccan opponent here yesterday to reach the final of the Samsung Open, an opportunist thief was stealing the British No 2's wallet and phone from the dressing-room.

Rusedski came off after winning 7-5, 7-5 in his semi-final against Hicham Arazi to find that his locker had been rifled. "They've gone shopping in the high street in Nottingham with my credit cards and got out £600 with one," he said. "It had my name on it so who'd be an idiot to let them use it? How many Rusedskis are there in England?"

Personal items, including pictures, were also pilfered while he entertained a capacity crowd of 3,100 on centre court. "That's what is most disappointing. As long as I get them back I'll be happy," Rusedski said, putting on a brave smile as he added: "I hope they catch whoever did it. I'll put them in front of my serve and hit them."

On yesterday's evidence, that would be no idle threat, as Mardy Fish, the 21-year-old American who is the No 8 seed, may discover in today's final. Fish, with whom Rusedski has practised in Florida but never played, defeated the defending champion, Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Despite another afternoon of swirling winds, Rusdeski powered down 11 aces, taking his total to 45 from victories over Jarkko Nieminen, Olivier Rochus, Vladimir Voltchkov and now Arazi. His overall game looked sharp, with some fine backhand approach shots, crisp volleying at the net and the occasional passing shot speared to a corner of the court.

During the first set, Rusedski gave up only three points on his serve. The second set was more difficult, Arazi allying renewed determination to his court-craft and speed. The North African, whom Rusedski is likely to encounter again when Great Britain visit Morocco in the Davis Cup in September, led 4-2 at one stage but was unable to sustain his ascendancy.

In the 12th game of the set, with Rusedski 6-5 up, Arazi defiantly saved three match points. When the world No 97 found the net with a fourth, a routine forehand, Rusdeski's fourth win in as many days was secure. He later hailed the match as "one of the best I've had on grass", saying: "The standard was very high. Tennis good. Wallet not good."

Rusdeski is clearly delighted with his preparations for Wimbledon, where he will probably meet Andy Roddick in the second round. "I felt I played really well, so my form is good. And fitness-wise, I'm feeling great. I'm a long way ahead of where I thought I would be when I had my injuries and I was out for nine months.

"It's nice to have an hour and a half of good-quality tennis on the court. I couldn't match that sort of practice session if I was working at Wimbledon. It was ideal. When I won here in 1997 I went on to my best Wimbledon showing. Hopefully the same will happen this time."

This afternoon's match will be the 25th final of Rusedski's career (as well as Fish's second) and the first since he won his 12th title at Indianapolis last August. "Significant" as he said victory would be at a tournament with which he has a special relationship, in reality Nottingham is a glorified work-out before the main event.

"The one everyone wants to win is Wimbledon," Rusedski said. "It has been 67 years since a British player won the [men's] title. I'm hoping this final can give me a launchpad towards that." The winner's prize, £35,000, would slip nicely into that new wallet, too.