Wimbledon 1997: The great indoors for Rusedski

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The Independent Online
Greg Rusedski won his fourth career title - his first on British soil - at the Nottingham Open yesterday, yet this important milestone in the British No 2's career proved somewhat anti-climactic.

Persistent rain for a third successive day meant that first the semi- finals had to be played indoors, and then after a long wait to see if the weather would clear, the organisers threw in a very soggy towel and at 4.15pm moved the final indoors.

Rusedski won in just 64 minutes, beating Karol Kucera of Slovakia 6-4 7-5 to become the first British male winner on home territory since Mark Cox at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975.

The problem was that no spectators could be accommodated indoors, so the three culminating matches of the tournament were played in bizarre conditions.

For the final, the crowd reached around 60 and furnished with a scoreboard they could see, they knocked their approval on the glass. During Tim Henman's semi-final against Kucera in the morning, we had Britain's first drive- in tennis match when a motorist drove her car up to the window and watched for a couple of minutes, but viewing tennis through two sets of glass plus windscreen wipers proved insufficiently attractive, and she disappeared into the drizzle.

Rusedski's title - achieved without dropping a set - is a triumph for the hard work he has put in over the past 12 months with his American coach, Brian Teacher. For years considered over-reliant on his booming left-handed serve, he has worked methodically on the ground strokes and footwork and is now respected by his fellow professionals as a more complete player.

He stood on the verge of a major coup in San Jose, California, in February when he beat Michael Chang and Andre Agassi in successive rounds, and led Pete Sampras in the final before retiring with a wrist injury which kept him out for two months. Now he has bounced back with nine wins in his last 10 matches, and going into Wimbledon he looks the better of the two British players.

Rusedski should have own the first set of the final more easily than he did. He had a set point at 5-2 and served at 5-3, but after dropping serve for the only time in the match, he broke straight back for 6-4. The break in the 12th game of the second set that gave him the title was always on the cards, Rusedski playing by far the more aggressive tennis.

The rivalry between Henman and Rusedski had always been friendly, with both keen to stress how much it has helped them, but Rusedski has clearly been irritated by the imbalance in publicity he has received of late. "Maybe I'll get a headline if I win the tournament," he said after the semi-final, adding: "It's not that it rankles, but it would be nice if people were to report that I won rather than Tim lost.

"Even last week at Queen's when I was in the semi-finals the media were asking what was wrong with Tim rather than what was right with me."

The feted hero two years ago, it has been hard for Rusedski to see Henman eclipse him in the rankings and the British tennis public's affections, but he has generally conducted himself with dignity, and his reward will come when tomorrow's rankings show two British players in the top 30 for the first time in 15 years. With Henman having reached the Wimbledon quarter- finals last year, by mid-July Rusedski could easily be a place or two higher than his rival.

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