Originally created 08/29/98

Rusedski, Rafter advance to semis



COMMACK, N.Y. -- The rivalry between Greg Rusedski and Patrick Rafter will continue in the semifinals of the Hamlet Cup.

Rusedski, who lost to Rafter in the finals of the U.S. Open last year, beat Daniel Vacek of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-3 Friday, then Rafter needed just 54 minutes to beat Nicolas Escude of France 6-3, 6-2.

The other matchup in Saturday's semifinals of the tuneup for the U.S. Open will have Felix Mantilla of Spain meeting Marat Safin, the 18-year-old tour rookie from Russia.

Mantilla, ranked 19th on the ATP Tour, outlasted Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, last year's French Open champion, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 Friday, while Safin, who upset Andre Agassi and Kuerten in consecutive five-set matches in this year's French Open, his first-ever Grand Slam competition, ousted Germany's David Prinosil 6-1, 7-6 (7-2).

Rafter, the 25-year-old Australian who is 24-3 with three titles since mid-June, holds a 4-1 career advantage over Rusedski, 24, who is playing his first tournament following a seven-week layoff with an injured left ankle.

"Tomorrow's match will probably bring a little bit of pressure," said Rafter, the second seed in the tournament who is ranked third in the world. "It's an important match and one I don't want to lose. Mind you, I don't need the win to know where I'm at as far as the U.S. Open is concerned. I've done my work.

"I'm very impressed with the Greg has bounced back and reached a semifinal so fast."

Rafter dominated Escude, winning 12 of 26 first return points, compared to three of 28 for the Frenchman.

"I served very well and that takes a lot of pressure off your game," said Rafter, who had three service breaks.

Rusedski, who was born in Canada but is now a resident of Great Britain, didn't have smooth sailing in his victory.

"The conditions were very difficult because of the swirling winds," said Rusedski, the No. 4 seed and sixth-ranked player in the world.

"I don't think about the ankle at all. I have it strapped up. Also, I have no complaints about my game at all. I'm moving better. My volleys are good and I'm able to move them. Hopefully everything will continue."

Mantilla reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at this year's French Open.

"There has been a complete turnaround in my game the last two months," he said.

"I have regained my consistency and I'm extremely confident. I'm going into the U.S. Open in good frame of mind. Why wouldn't I? I reached the top 10 for the first time ever this year and this tournament marks the first time I'm in a semifinal in the U.S."

Kuerten, who felt he didn't deserve to win his second-round match, thought he had a chance of beating Mantilla.

"My serve was no good today but I still thought I was going to beat him," he said. "Now I'll use the two days rest to get ready for next week."

Safin called the 136 mph serve for a match-ending ace was his fastest ever.

"Still I have a weakness, my volley," said the Russian, who had lost eight of nine matches prior to this week.