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Greg Rusedski

Greg Rusedski staked his place on the British tennis hall of fame in the late 90s. His affable character was a breath of fresh air, as was his rivalpummelling service game. Reaching a career high ATP ranking of world number four, Greg competed in the singles final of the 1997 US Open and though his grand slam title bid proved unsuccessful he crowned the year by winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. Taken into the hearts of British fans, it’s little surprise Canadian-born Greg now calls England home. Indeed, he adopted British citizenship in 1995.

Mentored in his early years by his father, his mental strength was a good fit for the game from the off. “I was six years old when I first held a tennis racket,” Greg recalls. “I have always been into sport. With team sports, you could play well but still lose, play poorly and still win. I liked the individuality of tennis.”

Rising through the ranks quickly, Greg was the first British man to crack the world’s top ten. “My greatest career highs were defeating Pete Sampras, the then number one player in the world, in the finals of the Paris Master and getting to my first grand slam final in the US Open. The grand slam win is the only thing missing from my résumé.”

The grand slam title may have eluded him but it is the Rusedski serve that most remember. In 1997, Greg held the record for the fastest serve ever recorded – a cool 149mph. His strong mental game matched his skills, too. Asked who he most enjoyed playing against during his pro career and the response is Danish player Kenneth Carlsen, “because even if I was match point down I always found a way back to beat him.”

Playing on the world’s biggest stages, with the expectation of a nation upon his shoulders, how did he keep his nerves at bay? “To this day, I still get nervous before a game, but these days I remind myself that it’s more about entertaining the crowds, catching up with the old guard and reminiscing than serious competition. That’s not to say we’re not all competitive – there’s life in us all yet,” Greg laughs.

Greg is in town to take on some of the aforementioned old guard at the Aspall Tennis Classic at Hurlingham. A pre-Wimbledon highlight, the tournament is celebrating its 25th anniversary and will see the likes of Mark Philippoussis, Thomas Enqvist, and Mikael Pernfors plus ATP stars Grigor Dimitrov, Hyeon Chung and Richard Gasquet do battle on the courts of the 42-acre Hurlingham estate in Fulham on 26-29 June.

“It’s always great to play to a home crowd, especially in the beautifully kept grounds of The Hurlingham Club. There’s nothing like a grass court, it’s the sport’s original surface and so different to any other. I’m also really looking forward to watching some of the best players in the world preparing their game for Wimbledon,” Greg adds.

With the tournament on the horizon, twotime Davis Cup winner Mark Philippoussis is also in London and eager to kick things off. “I’m looking forward to playing in front of that great fun atmosphere with friends of mine,” Mark says.

We may see friendly rivalries gracing the courts today but Mark admits that while all players were challenging on the pro tour his toughest opponent was always himself. “My two Davis Cup wins without a doubt were my biggest career highs but Davis Cup losses also produced my biggest lows. Same with the two grand slam finals – they also hurt a lot.” As one would expect, Mark and Greg are both keen spectators and love watching the best players take to the court.

“I like anyone that’s fun to watch and leaves their heart on the court. My favourite matches to watch have been Davis Cup matches where everybody puts it all on the line. [At Wimbledon] there’s a guy called Federer, he could be a dark horse this year!” he laughs.

In the run up to the Aspall Tennis Classic, Greg has been frequenting some of his favourite London haunts. “I have been enjoying dining at Zuma in Knightsbridge, The Ivy is also one of my absolute favourites. I like taking my kids to Clip n’ Climb in Chelsea. It’s an indoor climbing centre for adults and kids and they absolutely love it.”

Following Hurlingham, Greg will be at Wimbledon to watch one of the most exciting eras in tennis unfold. “You have to keep an eye on Federer. How he is playing at 37 is incredible and unseen before. [The final will be] Federer versus Nadal. The women’s tournament is wide open – I think it could be anyone of seven players and it will be interesting to see how Serena plays having been off for the baby,” Greg says.

Greg’s love of the sport and his building excitement for the British grass court season is palpable. A combination of ambition, skill, fortitude and sheer determination defines many of the great players and Greg Rusedski is no exception. While he may have retired from the gruelling professional tour, when he steps on the court for the legends’ matches he commits entirely – making his games as enthralling as ever.