Wimbledon 97: Rusedski wins the battle of big guns

WIMBLEDON '97: British No 2 demolishes Philippoussis as Wilkinson joins in the seed-swatting by overpowering Bjorkman; YESTERDAY AT WIMBLEDON; America's Kimberley Po becomes the first seed (No 13) to be knocked out; Gustavo Kuerten, the French Open champion, trips up on grassRussia's 16-year-old Anna Kournikova makes an immediate impact
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Greg Rusedski's coach, Brian Teacher, believes in the power of reverse psychology to the extent that when his protege whipped the world No 2, Michael Chang, a few months ago his response was: "Jeez, you played a terrible match out there."

We trust that the coach's debriefing after the British No 2 completed his demolition of Mark Philippoussis yesterday ran along the lines of: "You served like Sabatini, volleyed like Seles and returned like Amelia Earhart."

Unfortunately, Philippoussis may have ruined Teacher's ploy. "Greg's serve is probably the best I've returned against," the Australian No 7 seed said. "If he can serve that big in his other matches, who knows how far he can go. Good luck to him. He's going to have a good tournament."

The bookies are inclined to agree. Rusedski went into the first round duel of missile launching as a 33-1 shot with Hills for the title. Overnight, with the Briton leading by two sets and 3-1, his odds dropped to 14-1. After he secured the victory, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3, he was quoted at 12-1.

If this is going to be a Wimbledon for the outsiders, Chris Wilkinson is keen to make his presence felt.

Wilkinson, a 200-1 shot, had a stirring success against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, the No 17 seed, 7-6, 0-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Bjorkman, it may be recalled, eliminated Pete Sampras, the world No 1, in straight sets in the quarter-finals of the Stella Artois championships at Queen's Club less than a fortnight ago.

The British No 3 from Southampton, who arrived at the All England Club with a wild card, continued his habit of making a good impression. He reached the second round last year, having advanced to the third round in each of the previous three years.

Philippoussis won the Stella, outserving Goran Ivanisevic in the final, but Rusedski required only 14 minutes to wrap the match up yesterday, hitting six aces - four in one game, one off a second serve, and one to finish with an attacking flourish which typified his performance.

Rusedski delivered a total of 27 aces to the Australian's 14 and won 87 per cent of his first serve points and 70 per cent off his second serve.

"I don't feel like I outserved him. I think I outsmarted him on the serve," Rusedski said. "I think, definitely, he had more serves that were more powerful than mine in the match. We both hit 138mph, fair enough, but I think his average speed was probably higher than mine. But I placed it, I mixed it up, I didn't give him any rhythm on the returns. I was pleased that I served smarter at certain times, rather than harder."

Had he found it difficult to sleep on his overnight lead?

"I did," he said. "You never know what's going to happen next day. I would have liked to finish off yesterday. Mark was the one who at 2-1 asked if we could stop, and they said we were playing one more game, so I tried to get a break, and I did."

Rusedski viewed the Philippoussis match as an even bigger challenge than facing Sampras in the fourth round two years ago.

"Definitely," he said, "because it opens the draw up for me now. I mean, Philippoussis has just won Queen's, so he was definitely one of the favourites going into Wimbledon, because the Queen's champion usually does extremely well at Wimbledon."

Next up for Rusedski is the 26-year-old American Jonathan Stark, ranked No 58. Yesterday, stark defeated the Frenchman Stephane Huet in five sets. "My next match is going to be very difficult as well," Rusedski said. "Jonathan is another big server.

"I'm just trying to stay focused and in the present, and not getting ahead of myself, because if you get into euphoria too much you won't play well.

"I think I'll feel more sense of achievement when I'm done with Wimbledon this year. It's like Queen's. After I lost that semi-final to Ivanisevic, 20-18, I wanted to do better, and I did better at Nottingham. I'm not going to celebrate that until after Wimbledon, so I want to keep on going with the roll and keep on winning and trying to do my best out there.

"In my next match I'm going to need the same crowd support I had against Philippoussis. I was down 6-2 in the second set tie break. I hit a kind of late return and it kind of went cross-court, which was nice, and the crowd's support really helped me out."

Wilkinson also had the crowd's backing as he fought through against Bjorkman. "It's certainly one of the best matches I've played in at Wimbledon," he said. "It was tight, because in the beginning of the that fifth set I had quite a few break points and I wasn't quite converting them. And then I played a tough game at 3-3, and I just had to hold on, really. He had break points. I double-faulted. I hit some big serves at the right times. But it was a very important game to win."

Happily, Wilkinson appears to have settled his differences with David Lloyd, the Davis Cup captain. They had been at loggerheads since Wilkinson criticised the importation of Rusedski by the Lawn Tennis Association in 1995. "There's no problem any more. David Lloyd has spoken to me and everything is fine."

Australia's Mark Woodforde, one half of the world's top doubles partnership (with Todd Woodbridge), is Wilkinson's second-round opponent.

Sampras eased into the tournament with a straight sets win against Sweden's Mikael Tillstrom, and Boris Becker did not experience even a twinge from his troublesome wrist as he swept past Marcos Gorriz, of Spain, 6-3, 6- 2, 6-3. Michael Stich, who defeated Becker to win the title in 1991, prolonged his farewell to the lawns with a win against Jim Courier, the 1993 runner- up, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.

More reports, results, page 30