ON HIS night of valediction Pete Sampras was entitled to allow himself a wry smile about one result in particular on the opening day of the United States Open here yesterday. Greg Rusedski had lost in the first round.
A year ago, after losing to Sampras in the third round, Rusedski voiced the opinion that the great man was a "step and a half slower". Sampras went on to win his 14th Grand Slam singles title.
Yesterday, as Sampras waited to enter the Arthur Ashe stadium for the tributes to flow to mark his retirement, Rusedski was defeated, 6-4, 4- 6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, by another Gregory - Gregory Carraz - a 28- year-old Frenchman who had only won one previous match at a Grand Slam tournament and is ranked 10 places below Rusedski at No 100.
Carraz caught the British No 2 on a day when very little went right for Rusedski in the heat and wind on Court 11. As the match progressed, Rusedski seem to develop a limp, which must raise doubts about his fitness for the Davis Cup tie in Morocco next month. "I should be fine," Rusedski said. "It was just pretty tough playing my first five-set match on a hard court after being out for nine months. This surface is pretty rough on the body."
Carraz, a serve-and-volleyer who has developed late among the cluster of excellent Frenchmen on the Tour, looked as sprightly as Rusedski was ill at ease. Carraz took the initiative and showed the confidence that marked his performance against Lleyton Hewitt in the second round at Wimbledon last year, when the Australian prevailed and went on to win the title.
Although Rusedski managed to level the match at one-set all he was embarrassed by the Frenchman in the third set, which sped by in only 28 minutes. During this time Rusedski double-faulted six times and Carraz did not make a single unforced error.
It seemed that the Frenchman would ease to victory after he broke for 3-2 in the fourth set. But Rusedski recovered to 4-4, assisted by a his opponent's double-fault on break point and was able to level the match. Carraz responded by breaking decisively for 4-3 in the final set. It was Rusedski's first opening-round defeat at the US Open since 1996, the year before he reached the final.
Two seeds disappeared in the first round of the men's singles. Sebastien Gosjean, the French No 9 seed, …