NEW YORK -- No. 20 Greg Rusedski was the first men's quarterfinalist to move into the U.S. Open semifinals yesterday. But few seemed to care.
Many fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium left after watching a wonderful 2 1/2 -hour confrontation between No. 3 seed Jana Novotna and No. 6 Lindsay Davenport. Finally, Davenport won a third-set tiebreaker to upset her doubles partner, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5).
Davenport will now play No. 1 Martina Hingis, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over No. 10 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario for the right to meet the winner of the other semifinal between fellow American Venus Williams and Romanian Irina Spirlea in Sunday's final.
When Rusedski took center stage against 1996 Wimbledon champ Richard Krajicek, the huge stadium was more than half empty. Even behind the scenes, as Rusedski was just warming up for his 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6) victory, it was No. 13 Patrick Rafter, the man who beat crowd-favorite Andre Agassi Tuesday night, who was holding a news conference and drawing most of the attention.
Rafter, who will try to move into the semifinals today against Magnus Larsson, did not do the traditional formal interview after his 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3 victory over Agassi, because of cramping.
The cramps had hit Rafter's legs in the first game of the fourth set and by the time he made it to the locker room he was in substantial pain. "Cramping hasn't been a problem for a while," Rafter said. "I think just the whole nerves and the situation, you know, just me getting excited, contributed to it."
Rafter certainly had reason for excitement, given the stadium was packed and the crowd was rudely disruptive as he tried to keep his focus.
"This was so different," he said. "What I had to go through with the whole crowd. I guess it's such a relief, the buzz out there was just sort of hard to explain. It was so electric. The 15 friends I had in my box felt like they were taking on the whole crowd. They did a pretty bloody good job of it."
Yesterday, Rusedski had no trouble with the crowd. And though two of the three sets went to tiebreakers, he had little trouble with Krajicek. The reason? Rusedski did not try to overpower his opponent, but used a developing all-around game that was most steady on a cold and blustery day.
"I've gotten him out on the practice court and I'm getting him to not make loose errors or loose mistakes," said Rusedski's coach Brian Teacher, an Australian Open champion. "He's volleying better, moving better. He has a big, cracking forehand and now he's starting to make his backhand better. He's becoming a dangerous player."
Perhaps the crowd stayed away early on, because they feared boom-boom tennis. With Rusedski, whose top serve has been clocked at 142 mph, second only to Australian Mark Philippoussis's142.3 mph serve, there was no doubt reason to fear.
But Rusedski served just two aces in the match and he noted that on the one serve he blasted at 142: "I lost the point."
He has come a long way since 1995, when he decided to leave his native Canada and claim the English citizenship available to him because his mother was born in Great Britain. Rusedski made the switch because it meant he could play for the English Olympic team. He took a lot of criticism for leaving Canada and becoming the British No. 1 just like that. He also took heat because many felt his only weapon was his monstrous serve.
He has trouble admitting the criticism bothered him. He says the players in the locker room always respected his serve. The only difference now, is that "they respect me more because my game is complete."
At 24, Rusedski is now enjoying his highest ranking at No. 20, and when the new rankings come out next week, he could be Top 10. And certainly he is making believers here.
Coming into this tournament, he had never won a match in three previous Opens. As he waits to play unseeded Jonas Bjorkman, who advanced last night when No. 15 Petr Korda retired in the third set, he has yet to lose even one set this time.
This is his first Grand Slam semifinal, and he is the first British player to reach the semis since Mike Sangster in 1961. As Teacher points out, it didn't just happen.
Last December, Rusedski gave up his Christmas vacation to spend it in California with Teacher. They hit for four hours a day, every day.
"I hit backhands, returned serves, things we had to do," Rusedski said. "I missed the first event of the year, because I'd never hit so many topspin backhands that I had terrible blisters on my hands. But I think the work has paid off now."
When I got here, his goal was to win a match. Now? Well, he's not going to talk about winning the tournament until Saturday.
"If I win on Saturday, then I'll discuss it," he said. "I can't get ahead of myself. Right now, I'm on such a cloud, I can't believe I'm in the semis. I guess when I get up and have to play on Saturday, I guess I'll realize I'm there."
Men's singles, quarterfinals
Greg Rusedski, Britain, def. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6). Jonas Bjorkman def. Petr Korda (15), 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, 1-0, retired.
Women's singles, quarterfinals
Lindsay Davenport (6), Newport Beach, Calif., def. Jana Novotna (3), Czech Republic, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5). Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, def. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (10), Spain, 6-3, 6-2.
Pub Date: 9/04/97