Greg Rusedski advanced to play Pete Sampras in the the last 16 of the Ericsson Open here yesterday. Rusedski defeated Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, 6-1, 7-6, and Sampras struggled through against Andreas Vinciguerra, a 19-year-old Swedish wild card whose father is Italian, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.
While Sampras generally looked out of sorts against a talented newcomer - Vinciguerra translates as war winner, and the battle was a close run thing - Rusedski's performance was marred by one edgy game. The British No 2 became so frustrated after being foot-faulted that he knocked a ball gently towards the baseline judge, for which he received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.
A faulty right foot was the last thing Rusedski needed reminding about, having missed the start of the season for surgery to remove a bone spur and a cyst. "I thought it was a tough warning," Rusedski said. "I only rolled the ball between the linesman and a ballboy."
The lapse may have proved more costly. Black was able to gain a break for 4-2 in the second set after Rusedski double-faulted twice, the second time on break point (his second delivery missed the target by 10 feet).
Characteristic determination saved Rusedski from the potential dangers of a third set. Black, serving at 5-3 to level the match, salvaged three break points, but Rusedski continued to attack and was rewarded on the fourth break point when his backhand drive forced a volley error.
Black saved a break point at 5-5 and led 2-1 in the tie-break, thanks to another Rusedski double-fault. The Briton double-faulted a seventh time, for 3-3, but was able to make the decisive mini-break for 5-4 and served out the match after an hour and 22 minutes. He hit a total of 15 aces.
Sampras vomited at the side of the court during the final set, a reaction, he said, to anti-inflammatory medication he was taking for a back condition. Although 56 unforced errors punctuated his performance, he gave the left-handed Vinciguerra credit for pushing him to the edge of defeat. "His speed and competitiveness are his strengths," he said.
Rusedski has lost all but one of his eight previous matches against Sampras, the exception being the Paris Indoor final in 1998. "When you play Greg it's more of a crap-shoot with his big serve, but the surface here isn't as fast [as it was in Paris]."
The Canadian-born Rusedski remains coy about his Davis Cup intentions in the wake of David Lloyd's sacking as Britain's captain. "I'm going to make comment in the future," Rusedski said. "I'm just going to concentrate tennis at the moment."
His team-mate Tim Henman, the British No 1, hopes to persuade Rusedski to continue to support the cause under the new leadership of Roger Taylor. "I think perhaps at some stage I could try and help the situation," Henman said after negotiating a difficult opening match against an Argentinian qualifier, Agustin Calleri, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.
"I desperately want to be playing with Greg," Henman added. "I think it's also fair to say that this is not the time and the place [to discuss the matter with him]. Hopefully in the next few weeks, that opportunity will arise.
"There's been a difficult few weeks with the change of captain, but, whoever is sitting at the side of the court, I don't think it will change my attitude towards Davis Cup. I'll be out there giving everything I've got. What Greg decides is his business. I hope his decision is a positive one."
Henman, who has not had the best of times against Argentinian opponents, will see the familiar face of Mariano Zabaleta on the opposite side of the net in the third round. Zabaleta has won their two previous matches, in Hamburg last year and at the London Arena last month. "It's a good opportunity to get my first win against him," Henman said.
Andre Agassi, a loser in the opening round of his last two tournaments, introduced Andy Roddick to the big time by defeating the 17-year-old American wild card, 6-2, 6-3. "I like his game," Agassi said of the Roddick, the world's No 1 junior. "He can generate a lot of pace on the serve. He has a big forehand. He has room to improve on his backhand, but he moves very well."
Asked if the leading players had complimented him on his game when he was a rookie, Agassi said: "I think the only really nice comment I got was from [Mats] Wilander. I played him one time when I was 15. He gave me some credit. The first time I played [Jimmy] Connors I beat him and he didn't give me credit. [John] McEnroe said something about my hair. [Ivan] Lendl wasn't too positive either."
Results from the $5.76 million Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida:
Men's Singles Third Round
Greg Rusedski (GB) def. Byron Black (Zim) 6-1, 7-6 (4) Gianluca Pozzi (It) def. Jiri Novak (Cz Rep) 6-3, 7-5
Women's Singles Third Round
Amanda Coetzer (SA) def. (16) Dominique Van Roost (Bel) walkover (1) Martina Hingis (Swit) def. Anne-Gaelle Sidot (Fr) 6-0, 6-3 Kim Clijsters (Bel) def. Adriana Gersi (Cz Rep) 6-4, 7-5 (9) Anna Kournikova (Rus) def. Natasha Zvereva (Bela) 6-1, 6-4 (6) Conchita Martinez (Sp) def. Patty Schnyder (Swit) 7-5, 6-4
Men's Doubles First Round
Goran Ivanisevic (Cro) and Daniel Vacek (Cz Rep) def. Thomas Shimada (Japan) and Myles Wakefield (SA) 6-3, 6-4 Paul Goldstein and Chris Woodruff (US) def. Jim Courier and Jonathan Stark (US) 7-6 (4), 6-3 Jaime Oncins (Br) and Daniel Orsanic (Arg) def. Marc-Kevin Goellner (Ger) and Marcos Ondruska (SA) 6-3, 7-6 (5) Massimo Bertolini and Cristian Brandi (It) def. Fredrick Bergh and Peter Nyborg, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4
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