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Rafter Serves Up Victory Over Rusedski

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 1997; Page D1

NEW YORK, Sept. 7 ó There was no bead-haired phenom in the U.S. Open menís singles final, no 16-year-old prodigy. But those who stuck around after the womenís singles final today at Arthur Ashe Stadium were treated to some competitive play and the crowning of a new tennis heartthrob when Patrick Rafter defeated Greg Rusedski, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, to win his first Grand Slam title.

Rafter, who became the first Australian to win the U.S. Open menís singles title since John Newcombe in 1973 and the first finalist since Ken Rosewall in 1974, had been known throughout this tournament for his nickname, the Heartthrob from Down Under. But today it was his tennis that shone. Rafter, 24, displayed an excellent serve-and-volley game reminiscent of the one that used to be played by his idol and countryman, Pat Cash. He also countered Rusedskiís mighty serves ó one set a record of 143 mph ó with astute returns and superior net coverage.

"The difference was that when Pat saw openings, he took them," the unseeded Rusedski said of 13th-seeded Rafter, who will jump from No. 14 to No. 3 in the world rankings with this victory. "Heís a great athlete at the net. He moves very well. Heís in great shape. He has the best volleys on tour because of his movement."

There was more than a sprinkling of empty seats during the match, as many of the fans who saw Martina Hingis defeat Venus Williams in the womenís final lost interest in the lesser-known menís players. However, Rafter knew how to reward those who stayed. After flopping onto his back in delight after the victory, he rushed over to the playersí guest box, as so many winners have done during the past two weeks. But instead of simply reaching to high-five his friends and family, Rafter actually climbed the wall and leapt into the box, imitating Cashís climb up an ivy-covered wall at Wimbledon in 1987.

"I just canít believe it at the moment ó Iím in a fantasy land," Rafter said after returning to the court. "Itís something you dream of, but you never think it would happen."

Rafter rolled through the first two sets in an hour. But as the enormity of what he was about to accomplish began to dawn on him, he appeared to tighten up just as Rusedski began to gain confidence. With the third set tied at 4, Rafter squandered three break points, allowing Rusedski to take the set with a break in the 10th game.

Rusedski continued to work hard in the fourth set, outhustling Rafter ó if not outplaying him ó for a while. But it wasnít enough. After exchanging breaks early in the set, the players were tied at 5 when Rafter shifted his game into a higher plane. He broke Rusedski at love, then won his own service game with a volley, closing the match by winning 12 of the last 13 points.

"You get in that situation, with a Grand Slam title under your belt, and all you want to do is get the thing over with as quick as you can," said Rafter, who had been winless in five other tournament finals this year and today claimed only his second Association of Tennis Professionals Tour victory. "I learned a lot from those five experiences and how to handle myself today, definitely."

Rafter, known for his lively off-court demeanor, joked about they way heíd be celebrating this victory, although he wonít be the only one partying this week. It was almost 10 a.m. on Monday in Australia when Rafter clinched the title, but Newcombe, who was commenting on the match for Australian television, was sure almost everyone there was taking a break from the workday to watch.

"This has been front-page news all over the place ó itís been a little bit of a draught," said Newcombe, who will coach Rafter when Australia plays a Davis Cup semifinal against the United States in Washington in two weeks. "Patís a different equation. He has that excitement when heís out there. He and [fellow Australian Mark] Philippoussis ó women love them, guys admire them.

"The advice we had for him today was just go out, relax and have some fun with it all."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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