The grin is back. So, crucially, is the game. After nine months viewing the world from sickbeds and sofas, Greg Rusedski is peaking at precisely the right time for Wimbledon. His 6-3 6-2 win over the American Mardy Fish in the final of the Samsung Open here yesterday was a tennis textbook.
Rusedski, who wins £35,000 and the 13th title of his career, struck only seven aces but served impeccably. Poor Fish was out of his depth. He never even got the sniff of a break, salvaging just six points on the Rusedski serve in the opening set and a miserable two in the second. With that very American expression, Fish called Greg's performance "awesome". And so it was. Given that his game was rarely under pressure, Rusedski bore down, grabbed his chances when they came and took this trophy, for the second time, in 57 minutes. The first occasion had been a rain-sodden week in 1997, when the semi-finals and final had to be staged indoors on the same day, with the public barred. This time the conditions smiled on Greg and he smiled right back.
He praised the true bounce of the courts and thanked the Nottingham public for their support. The only blip on a memorable week had been the theft of his credit cards and cash from the dressing room on Friday. That will be low on Rusedski's totem pole of emotions, with life suddenly full of good things again. And some of his valuables have been recovered. "I got half my driver's licence back, a gym card and they found two credit cards," he said. "But there is some guy looking exactly like me getting out money and shopping.
"But this has been a perfect day. My tennis has got better and better with every match. My goal was just to get back to tennis and be ready for Wimbledon. I didn't think in my wildest dreams I would win a tournament. You are always picky as a tennis player but this was perfect preparation. I am still a bit surprised with myself today. I haven't played better than this going into Wimbledon, not even in 1997." And his Wimbledon expectations? "My expectation is to get by my first round on Monday and then try to open up the draw. Andy Roddick in the second round is probably my key match. But I am more relaxed now. I have almost wanted it too badly in the past and sometimes tried too hard. Now I have a better perspective of the game, having been out so long."
The 21-year-old Fish was memorably hailed by a local radio station, when a toddler in Minnesota, as "the best two-year-old tennis player in the world". He has come on a bundle since then, and this was his second losing final of the year, but Rusedski had too much savvy. The British left-hander was prepared to rally when necessary, but Fish's vaunted return of serve was neutered by the quality of shot aimed in his direction.
The break which cost Fish the first set came in the fourth game. In the second set he held Rusedski for the first four games before being swept away by a torrent of winners, to the delight of a near-capacity audience. The experienced crowd pleaser finished things off with an ace followed by a booming service winner.
A mobile phone and champagne were among the rewards, but the cup was what Rusedski really coveted. "It's always nice to hold a trophy aloft at the end of the week," he smiled.
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