Rusedski's hard serve carries him to RCA title

Sunday, August 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Greg Rusedski's T-shirt read 149 mph, a reminder of the booming serve that once placed him among the world's top tennis players.

Rusedski is serving notice he's back.

On Sunday, Rusedski's serves hit speeds as high as 132 mph as he rallied for a 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Spain's Felix Mantilla to win the RCA Championships title.

``I feel great, I have had no knee problems,'' Rusedski said after winning his second title of the season. ``I'm fit, I'm strong and I'm excited about the (U.S.) Open coming up.''

Rusedski's preparation for the U.S. Open has been nothing short of amazing. In two weeks, Britain's Rusedski, ranked No. 41, has defeated each of the world's top three players _ Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, Russia's Marat Safin and Germany's Tommy Haas.

He beat top-ranked Hewitt in straight sets Thursday and Haas in three sets Saturday just to reach the RCA final. He beat Safin a week earlier in the Masters Series in Cincinnati.

He also had to win matches on five consecutive days to win the RCA title, the 12th of his career.

That stretch had Rusedski smiling and feeling healthy again after a two-year battle with injuries knocked his ranking, once as high as fourth, to as low as 69th.

``This gives me a lot of confidence going into the Open,'' said Rusedski, a U.S. Open finalist in 1997. ``I don't think there are a lot of guys who can say they've beaten the top three players in the world the last two weeks.''

He won Sunday the way he usually does: with a strong serve, by winning long baseline rallies and with strong net play.

Mantilla was no match, losing to Rusedski for the first time in three meetings between the two players. Mantilla is 9-10 in championship matches.

``It's crazy,'' Mantilla said. ``If he's playing like he did against me, he's going to be tough to beat the next two weeks.''

Rusedski, seeded 14th, blew the unseeded Mantilla away with first serves that consistently reached speeds higher than 110 mph and second serves that were only a bit slower. He had 16 aces, including one to close out the eighth game of the final set after he had fallen behind 40-0. Mantilla finished with one ace.

Rusedski went to the net 69 times, winning 41 points while Mantilla won only 4-of-7.

Even 60 unforced errors couldn't stop Rusedski, who complained to the chair umpire about calls two times and tossed his racket after he lost the tiebreaker 8-6 on a ball he thought sailed long.

No problem.

Rusedski settled down in the second set, rarely losing a point on serve and taking advantage of three break points in the seventh game, winning on a crosscourt smash.

``I think the seventh game is the most important game in a set,'' he said. ``That's certainly a place where you have to have a lift and I lifted well there today.''

Rusedski broke in the seventh game of the third set, too, taking control of the match.

But up a break and armed with a 4-3 lead in the final set, Rusedski stumbled a bit. He lost the first three points to Mantilla, then battled back with an overhead winner and net winners before closing out the game with _ what else? _ an ace.

Mantilla battled back from a match point to win the next game, but Rusedski served out the match at love, ending it with a winner down the line.

``I think I can mix it up between a slice and flat,'' Rusedski said of his serve. ``I can change speeds and that's what the key is, keeping them off balance and being able to back it up with my volleys.''