Wimbledon 1997: MATCH OF THE WEEK
Frew McMillan looks back on the powerful progress of a British showman
Sunday 29 June 1997
This was the clash of the titans: a Greek meeting Greek (let's overlook Rusedski being a Polish name), both coming into Wimbledon with a grasscourt title under their belt - Philippoussis at Queen's, Rusedski at Nottingham - Philippoussis riding the wave of Australian success this year, Rusedski profiting from his new-found momentum and respect as a more all-round player. Normally a meeting of two big servers on grass is hardly an exciting prospect, but the thought of a cannon on either side of the net was enthralling.
In the first set Rusedski looked at home. He knew Centre Court, while Philippoussis was playing his second match there. Rusedski is more of a showman, reacts favourably to the big stage, and looked in control of his nerves, while Philippoussis looked younger, off-balance and vulnerable.
Rusedski served superbly in the first set, dropping just two points on serve and in boxing parlance was clearly ahead on points as they went into the tiebreak. In the second set Philippoussis came more into the match, but the way he lost the second tiebreak confirmed his vulnerability playing a Briton on Centre Court. He led 6-2 in the tiebreak but misjudged a Rusedski backhand and then served two double faults, trying to make too much of his second serves - Rusedski took six points on the run to take the tiebreak 8-6. It was like earning your own reward and then, in the moment of celebrating it, giving it away.
At two sets down Philippoussis's only salvation lay either in a major rearguard action or in Rusedski breaking down. Had he still been level on serve when they stopped for bad light at 9pm on Monday he might have had a better chance, but they went with Rusedski 3-1 up.
Still this offered an opportunity for the best Australian heads to get together to knock some sense into Philippoussis, to get him to be less reckless and to play the important points better.
Much depended on Rusedski's first service game on Tuesday afternoon, but despite the pressure, the Briton played a dreamlike game, making the most of his swinging left-handed serve. Philippoussis kept hoping for serves to come on to his big forehand, but Rusedski continued his smart start, kept serving to the backhand, and won the match on an ace wide to the Philippoussis backhand.
One match - two if you count yesterday's success over Jonathan Stark - won't put Rusedski on an equal footing with Tim Henman in the public's affections, but this is a tremendous springboard to catapult him alongside in the ratings. Perhaps the true magnitude of his win can be measured by those who wanted to back Rusedski to win the title at his pre-Wimbledon price of 40-1, only to find him at 14-1 afterwards.
Interview by Chris Bowers
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