By Humphrey Carter
WINNING Wimbledon, watching Arsenal win the Premiership title back-to-back and a small walk-on part in the next James Bond film would make Greg Rusedksi a happy man next year. However, in his present positive frame of mind, he reckons the most unlikely event will be a call from the Bond producers.

But Greg Rusedksi, the first British tennis player to finish in the world's top ten and then the top five ATP rankings, does not have any secret gadgets like his screen idol Sean Connery, “there are no excuses in tennis, at the end of the day, you can only blame yourself. There's no one on the bench to bring out if you're having a bad game or feeling off form,” he told me over lunch in Santa Ponsa.

Greg is on his comeback tour, the last few years have not only been dogged by injuries but also a six-month fight to clear his name after testing positive for nandroline.

He eventually won his legal challenge and the ATP was held responsible, he does not like talking about it now but says he is still waiting for a full explanation from the ATP.

However, despite the set backs and a a six-month nightmare, he has come through it all in a very positive frame of mind. He is looking forward to the future and is enjoying playing tennis again. Although he admits his ranking is not quite where he would have liked at this stage.

But, his early exit from Wimbledon has not fazed him, “I had about two and a half months to get ready for Wimbledon, it was highly unrealistic for people to think I was going to get very far this year. Considering all the circumstances, I thought I played pretty well. I was pretty happy with the way I played at Nottingham and then at Wimbledon. I played two solid matches and was just unfortunate when I fell over and hurt myself, but nothing serious thankfuly,” he says over a club sandwich, fries and a diet coke. “I'm working on the positives and next year I'm looking to be able to come into Wimbledon with a full year of tennis. “So, I'm restarting from this day and moving forward.” Rusedski was only cleared of his doping offence in the midle of March. “There are a lot more positives to take out of the situation than negatives,” he adds. “The ranking's not where I want it to be, but if you miss six months of tennis, anyone's ranking's going to be bad, so the only thing is to look forward and move on. “I'm enjoying my tennis, starting to play well and guys are not going to want to be playing. I just need one or two big weeks and I'll be back up to where I want to be.” He admits he's had a tough two years. “In 2002, I was playing very good tennis, then I hurt myself against Sampras, had to have a foot operation. That summer I won Indianapolis and beat the top three players in the world. I had foot and knee surgery, came back well, won Nottingham and then at Wimbledon I lost to Roddick, who went on to win, and then I had all the crap,” he says. “But, what's in the past is in the past and I'm trying to put all that behind me. “If I dwell on last year, I'm not going to play good tennis.” “The ATP needs to find a solution to all this and look after me and the other players, I hope we can now all move forward together. “The players were great because any one of us could have been effected by the same situation and the Spanish especially were very vocal in their support. “I'm always the first person to go to my tests, I've had well over a 100 tests by now, sometimes up to 12 or 14 a year, so I'm the first to go and the first to come out, it's nothing unsual. So I think the players understood the situation and it was great to have their support,” he says. “They all knew it was an exceptional circumstance I should never have been put through,” he says.
Rusedski believes he still has something left in his tennis, therefore during last year's ordeal he never thought about hanging up his racket. “You're always fighting against yourself as the expectations and what's written in the press sometimes is highly unrealistic, I mean put anyone through my situation and expect them to play good tennis straight away is almost impossible. So I've got a long term view of the situation. “Going into this year's Wimbledon I said don't expect too much of me. “But if I can play a full year. why can't I do well at Wimbledon, why can't I do well in my career, enjoy it and do what I want out there? “It's a building process. Tennis is cruel it's not like golf, we don't have a two year exception. Tennis is cyclical, it's year by year, so if you miss a period, it's one of the hardest sports to get back on. I can't get a substitution if I'm off form in a match.” Rusedski says he is hitting the ball well and feeling good on court, he really enjoyed the three days on clay, not his best surface, in Majorca.
His three preferred surfaces are hard, grass and in-door and today he flies to the States to compete on all three surfaces with the aim of at least wining in Newport this week and booking a place in the U.S. Open which he lost in the final to Patrick Rafter in 1997.

His low ranking is however making it tougher and he has to hope for as many wild cards as possible “if not, I'll play the qualifying rounds.” RUSEDSKI is excited about both the future of his and men's tennis in general. “It's a great time for men's tennis with the likes of Federer, Hewitt and Roddick and especially (Majorcan) Rafael Nadal. “I have never seen a 17-year-old play like him, well not since Boris Becker. “He's so hungry and extremely strong, he's built and plays like a grown man. “In a way he reminds me of Jimmy Connors, he's so hungry, he wants to win every point and fights for it, He's going to be the one to beat soon. At the moment, Federer is one of the most complete players we've seen. He plays everything right and no matter how hard you serve or hit the ball at him, he'll get it back. “However, I've beaten all of the players in the Wimbledon draw, so that's another positive for me to work on.” However, the future of British tennis, while looking brighter Greg says, is not quite as exciting as elsewhere. “We're improving things, putting a team of physios together to look after and help the players, but I guess we've always got to fight the weather and the facilities and also, we can't deny the fact that football is always going to be the number one sport and then there's rugby and cricket. “Even my kids are playing rugby, so it's harder to find the kids in the UK. “But there are some really talented players coming through the ranks,” he says. “But the problem in Britain is that if any kid starts to show any glimmer of hope, he's the next Fred Perry and Wimbledon champion, suddenly a young person is faced with all the expectation, which makes things even harder.” Right now, he and Tim Henman are still the best chances of home glory at the All England Club.
Greg feels sorry for Tim and fully understands his reaction to losing in quarter final to Ancic. “When you lose in a major tournament it always takes three or four days to get over it...but he'll bounce back. “What makes it worse though is when you feel you've missed a real opportunity. If you go out there, play the best you can and don't lose it mentally and lose, well, you've just got beaten by a better player, but if you walk off caught with a nagging doubt in your mind, it makes it a lot worse. “I don't think Tim served and vollyed as much as usual, I was surprised and Ancic just played a great game,” says Greg.
He says tennis is very much down to the player “you're on your own out there.” But he denies that the thousands of screaming fans at Wimbledon are more of a hindrance than a help. ”No I love the crowd there, they really help, I enjoy having them behind me, especially when you're playing well and feeling confident,” he says. “Sometimes it's the pressure of the press which doesn't help. If you win a match you're the best thing since sliced bread, but if you lose...It's something we've all learnt to deal with one way or another,” he says. “You're never as good as victory, but you're never as bad as your lose.” He admits that, in view of everything over the past few years, the press and fans have written him off a little bit, “but I haven't written myself off, so we'll see.” He fully understands what the English rugby, cricket and football teams are going through. “Well, the football, we were robbed against Portugal and the rugby? If someone said to you that after winning the World Cup you may lose a few matches, you'd still take the World Cup. We've lost 11 players and Wilkinson is still not fit so it's all relative. The cricketers are getting a hard time, but we won the test series against New Zealand and have just beaten the West Indies. “I think we can look forward to the football World Cup in 2006, there's good team to build on there, but again, just like in any sports, when the tournament comes around, you always need that bit of luck.” As an Arsenal fan, he's looking forward to the new season starting and would like to see the Gunners win the league back-to-back, but feels that Arsenal should have perhaps forgotten about the FA Cup and focused on the Champions League more. “And to think they're still on their winning run is incredible, we'll never see this again. But we're going to have to watch Chelsea this year, Man United are still rebuilding, but Chelsea are going to be dangerous,” he says.

Clearly, he loves his sport. “I'd be a footballer or a golfer in my next life,” he says. But he is also a James Bond fanatic. “I have a James Bond room in my basement with all the original posters. Sean Connery is my favourite, followed by Pierce Brosnan,” says the man who loves From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

He may not get that Bond part, but after everything that's happened over the past two years, Greg Rusedski is neither shaken nor stirred.

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