There is likely to be a new men's singles champion at Wimbledon this year – unless Richard Krajicek's battered body can carry him through to cause a sensation – but it will not be Greg Rusedski. Yesterday the British No 2 lost his final set, held over from the previous evening, 6-4 to the Belgian Xavier Malisse, who will now meet either Australia's Mark Philippoussis or Krajicek in the quarter-final.
So "Rusedski Ridge" is no more and will become "Henman Hill" again, with the British No 1, despite not having played well thus far, left as the only survivor capable of planting the Union flag at its summit. While his compatriot was passing up a wonderful opportunity to reach the last eight for only the second time, Henman was able to enjoy a day off to prepare for today's meeting with the Brazilian Andre Sa.
Rusedski claimed, not unreasonably, to have had the better of the match over five sets, but had to admit that he lost the important points yesterday. At break point for Malisse in the seventh game, he netted a straightforward volley and then, when offered a chance to break back at 4-5, could only watch an ace fizz past him. He saved one match point with a net cord but, when faced with another, netted a backhand return and was left to rue the waste of a chance to go on and improve on his previous best at Wimbledon, the quarter-final defeat to Cedric Pioline five years ago.
"It was a great opportunity but I did the best I could," Rusedski said. "It just came down to maybe two balls at the end of the match. You can have the momentum but, if you don't take it when it counts, then you end up the wrong way. I'm still young, I'm only 28 so I've still got a few more years left in me to do well."
Some felt the British No 2 might have done better by advancing to the net more, a strategy which he dismissed as dangerous against the "crafty" Malisse: "He loves a target. If you come in and keep chipping, he's going to keep passing. Down the middle, he's not as good, but on the wings he's very dangerous."
Dangerous enough for Rusedski to include him among five potential winners, including whoever comes through between Philippoussis and Krajicek. It looked at one stage as if the Battle of Wounded Knee, Elbow and all other Moving Parts might finish prematurely when the Dutchman, already down by one set and a break, had to call the trainer for treatment to his hamstring and shoulder. He recovered and had taken the ultimate serve-and-volley match to two sets apiece – all decided on tie-breaks – before more rain came shortly after seven o'clock.
Krajicek had played only one singles match in 18 months before the tournament because of elbow trouble. His opponent's knee injuries originally dated back to the Wimbledon quarter-final of 1999 and he now has synthetic cartilage injected into it every six months. On yesterday's form, the treatment works well.
Remarkably, Krajicek fought back to retrieve his second-set break with two fine returns, then win the tie-break. After an 80-minute break for rain, the third followed a predictable pattern, with only two break points, until a tie-break in which the Australian suddenly seized the upper hand, running through it 7-1.
If Krajicek's head went down, it remained there only briefly and he seemed to have shrugged off any worries, either psychological or physical, about his injuries. By the fourth set he was winning as many games to love as Philippoussis and yet another tie-break became inevitable. There was a fine passing winner against the serve for each man before Krajicek made the decisive breakthrough with a backhand pass down the line. Malisse will be rubbing his hands at the prospect of meeting an exhausted winner tomorrow.
Today it is England against Brazil in the quarter-final, which has a familiar ring, as Henman takes on Sa. Supporters on "Henman Hill" must hope that the British No 1 will have learnt from David Seaman to beware the lob. He was grateful for a day off yesterday to recover fully from the stomach ailment that beset him – for the second time this year – in beating Michel Kratochvil on Monday and said: "It's a match I feel I should win but I've got to go out there and prove it."
A number of pundits are not convinced. After Pat Cash, the 1987 champion, said that he will wear one of Sue Barker's dresses on the BBC's highlights programme on Sunday if Henman wins the tournament, Chris Evert yesterday described his form to date as "very mediocre". He is clearly not at his best, whereas Sa is on a roll and loving it. The 25-year-old right-hander has never before been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament. Having lost a five-setter to a cramping Arvind Parmar in the first round last year, adding to his reputation as something of a choker, he came to Wimbledon with five successive defeats behind him before beating the 31st seed, Stefan Koubek, and suddenly blossoming.
And finally... news to worry those looking further ahead than Sunday: Pete Sampras, having nursed his wounds for a few days after a second-round defeat by George Bastl, has sent an e-mail to his fitness trainer, Brett Stevens, at Wimbledon announcing that he is "ready to go" again. Stevens has been summoned back to the United States to help Sampras prepare for the American hard-court season.
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