T365 Recalls: How Greg Rusedski went from winless at Flushing Meadows to 1997 US Open runner-up
Greg Rusedski announced his retirement from professional tennis on April 7, 2007, so it is only right that we remember his greatest achievement at a Grand Slam.
His ’97 US Open journey certainly came like thunderbolt from a clear blue sky as before that year his record at Flushing Meadows read: played three, lost three.
Yet on September 7 Rusedski found himself playing in the showpiece match on Arthur Ashe Stadium as he was up against fellow first-time Grand Slam finalist Pat Rafter.
It came at the right time for Rusedski as he endeared himself to the British public just a couple of years after he adopted Britain as his home country.
Things certainly click for him in 1997 as he finished runner-up to Goran Ivanisevic at the Zagreb Indoors at the start of February and not too long after that he lost the Pacific Coast Championships final against Pete Sampras in California.
It was a case of third time lucky for him as he won the Nottingham Open in June, seeing off Karol Kucera in straight sets, before reaching the quarter-final at Wimbledon.
By the time the US Open started, he had reached a career-high of No 20 in the world rankings, but you would still have found very long odds on him reaching the latter stages of the tournament as he had lost in the first round at his three previous visits.
Finding himself in the top half of the draw, he certainly had an easy road to the business end as he notched up straight set wins over American wildcard David Wheaton, Marcos Ondruska from South Africa, German Jens Knippschild and Daniel Vacek from the Czech Republic in the first four rounds.
The first big gun he faced was 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek and, although he was tested, he still managed to see off the Dutchman in three sets, winning 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6) in the quarter-final.
Swede Jonas Bjorkman stood between Rusedski and a maiden major final and for the first time the Brit was really tested as he came from two sets to one down.
The Independent reported the “birthday boy braves the pain to become first Briton to reach a grand slam final for 20 years”.
Rusedski’s 24th birthday didn’t get off to the best of starts as he woke up with a throat infection and then watched television coverage of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
But his day improved as he beat the Swede 6-1, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
“I hope I have provided people back home with a bit of a lift. But there I realise that tennis is insignificant compared with a tragedy,” he said after becoming the first Brit since Fred Perry in 1936 to reach the US Open final.
Rafter, who beat second seed Michael Change in straight sets in his semi-final, was the man awaiting him in the final.
Unfortunately for Rusedski, the Australian was just too good on the day as he won 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
“1997 was kind of like my breakthrough to the big time in men’s tennis and then leading into the US Open, it was quite funny because I’d never won a match there and it was the first year they had built Arthur Ashe Stadium,” Rusedski told LTA back in 2017.
“My preparation did really well going into the event – I’d lost in the semis of the week previously to Rafter who I’d actually meet in the finals that year, so coming into the event I felt really good. I had great preparation with the whole team around me and got off to the perfect start.”
A few weeks after the US Open final he won the Swiss Indoors and then finished runner-up at the Vienna Open and climbed to a career-high of No 4 in the rankings.
He capped off a glorious 1997 by being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year with Tim Henman finishing runner-up.
“The icing on the cake was getting BBC Sports Personality of the Year,” Rusedski said a decade later. “A lot of people said ‘you’re going to win it this year’ and I didn’t know whether I was or I wasn’t, but that was very special because the public obviously votes for you and it just shows that I was accepted, that the people appreciated what I did, and it was a very special moment to be able to win that.”
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