US Open tennis: Rusedski at a loss to explain errors

Crestfallen Briton fails to capitalise on double break as debilitated Martin strides to quarter-finals
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AFTER Greg Rusedski had blown it more dramatically than Hurricane Dennis at the United States Open, John McEnroe, America's new Davis Cup captain, led the ovation for the heroic Todd Martin from the television commentary box.

For the crestfallen Rusedski, it was not so much Birmingham revisited, more hell on earth. His distraught features conveyed hurt, anger and self- recrimination after squandering a two-sets-to-love lead in losing, 5-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. The questions were flooding his mind even before the media interrogation began.

How did he fail to secure the cushion of a 5-2 lead in the third set after dominating the debilitated Martin? "If I got the double break, the match was all over; no chance he breaks me twice. I had a chance with one forehand up the line. I just didn't do that. It's my own fault."

Why was he, the fiercest server in the game, unable to serve the match out at 5-4? "I rushed it a little bit. I got the first point. Second point, he hits a cross-court angle, I don't bend my legs. I should have made that volley for 30-15, then he hits a great return. Then he breaks me on another great return. So, two good returns."

Why did he encourage his opponent to fly into the quarter-finals after leading 4-1 in the fifth set, failing to make a single point in the concluding five games, and grateful for the one gifted when Martin double-faulted to 30-15 when serving for the match after more than three hours? "From set three, my service percentage went down, his went up. He lifted his game, I didn't lift mine. That's why I'm sitting here, a loss."

Martin, meanwhile, was in the treatment room. The match had finished at just after midnight, and the American spent an hour on an intravenous drip, replenishing his system with two litres of fluid. "I've got to congratulate Todd on his absolutely outstanding effort last night," McEnroe said yesterday, having being confirmed as the Davis Cup captain from next year. "That's the type of person I want to have on my team."

McEnroe knows how it feels to lose a two-set lead in a major championship. He failed to add the French Open title to his list of achievements, allowing himself to be distracted by a television effects microphone after leading Ivan Lendl in the 1984 final, 6-3, 6-2, 4-2.

And who could forget Martin's collapse after serving for the match at 5-1 in the fifth set against his compatriot MaliVai Washington in the 1996 Wimbledon semi-final? Washington won, 10-8.

But reminders of the misadventures of others rarely soothe the afflicted. "To lose like this is just terrible," said Rusedski, who was the BBC Sports Personality of the Year after he reached the final here in 1997.

"I felt I had a great chance. The courts were playing quick. I was playing well. The section [of the draw] fell apart. So it's one that's tough to swallow. I just didn't do my job, and there's no excuse for it. I'm not going to say it was the umpire; it was the crowd; it was anything. It was me, and that's it. My goal was not to beat myself. That, I failed on. I lost that match; Todd didn't win that match."

Martin did not entirely agree. "In every tennis match, there's one guy that won the match and one guy that lost it," he gently pointed out. "Rarely is it all one thing. So it was a little bit of me winning the match, and a little bit of him losing the match. I can't blame him for saying that."

He admitted he was ready to pack his bags and join the exodus of spectators after "a pathetic performance in the first couple of sets that sent people home." He thanked the 4,000 or so who stayed to be thrilled by his revival. "I thought I was done after that second set," he said. "I don't know if it was the chanting or the smelling salts that was picking me up."

How does Rusedski intend to pick himself up? "Well, you go to Tashkent and win the tournament. It's not the same as the US Open."

McEnroe's appointment has caused a great deal of excitement. Some considered it a case of an inmate running an asylum (Ted Schroeder, the 1949 Wimbledon champion, returned his Davis Cup winner's medal after McEnroe's tantrums during a tie in Sweden). Others congratulated Judy Levering, the United States Tennis Association's first woman president, on a bold, but shrewd, move, which has the backing of the leading players, including Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

McEnroe, aged 40, said that he hoped Agassi and Sampras would lead the American team and added that he would still consider playing Davis Cup doubles while captaining the team. "I've wanted to do it for a long time," he said. "Everybody knows that. This time it feels right."

"Apparently, it took this wonderful lady here to show some guts finally. It's one of the proudest moments of my life."