Tennis: Henman's call-up angers Mantilla

No sooner had Greg Rusedski retired hurt from the ATP Tour World Championship than his fellow Briton Tim Henman received an emergency call to join the world's elite eight. John Roberts, in Hannover, explains why Hall 13 at the Expo 2000 complex has been l
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A bizarre week for British tennis came to a head yesterday when colleagues of various nationalities smiled benignly and sarcastically offered congratulations, "for finally having an Englishman at the World Championship".

Having grudgingly accepted the Canadian-born Greg Rusedski after close scrutiny of his British passport, the international tournament world was mildly amused to see Tim Henman, Oxford-born and bred, being ushered through the back door as the ninth reserve for the eight-man ATP Tour Championship.

There was an exception to the general good-natured banter prompted by Henman's dash from the Guardian Direct National Championships at Telford to replace the injured Sergi Bruguera against Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the concluding round-robin match here. The Spaniards were seething.

Losing Bruguera (No 8) with an injury to the lower back after he had played two of his three matches was bad enough. And offence was taken when the ATP Tour's call down the rankings for an alternate was answered by Henman (No 17) rather than Barcelona's Felix Mantilla (No 16).

The problem was, time was running out and the choice of substitutes was limited. Thomas Muster (No 9) had already earned the $40,000 (pounds 23,700) alternate's fee here by stepping in for the injured Rusedski against Carlos Moya on Thursday night.

Marcelo Rios (No 10) was back home in Santiago, Chile. Richard Krajicek (No 11) was injured, Alex Corretja (No 12) was ineligible under the ATP Tour's rules because he was already playing doubles at an ATP Challenger event in Andorra. Petr Korda (No 13) was having a nose operation. Gustavo Kuerten (No 14) was in Brazil. Goran Ivanisevic (No 15) was injured.

When it came to No 16, say the Tour, Mantilla's telephone rang and rang without response. After the midnight deadline (local time) was passed, the call went out to Henman, No 17, and arrangements were made for him to play his singles quarter-final against Jaime Delgado in Telford at 11am (Henman won, 6-4, 6-2) and then leave for Hannover by private aircraft.

Mantilla was not impressed when he answered telephone calls from the Spanish media yesterday. "It's not true that they [the ATP] called me or left a message. They have all my phone numbers, those of my coach and of the clubs where I play. I am feeling very, very angry. They don't have respect for me or the Spanish players. It seems they don't want to see us in their kind of tournaments.''

The allegations were denied by Peter Alfano, the ATP Tour's vice-president for communications. "Mantilla was called. There was no answer," Alfano said. "We called all the players down the list with the offer, `You have to pay your own way there, but we will give you $10,000 and the opportunity to win $100,000'. I'm sorry he feels that way, but the rules say you go down the players in the order of ranking. You can't just go to the player you want."

Last year, Henman had the good fortunate to compete at the $6m Grand Slam Cup in Munich as the second alternate. He won $425,000 as a semi- finalist, having lost to Boris Becker.

The Spaniards did have some cause for celebration yesterday. Carlos Moya, who defeated Pete Sampras in his opening round-robin match, joined the world No 1 in today's semi-finals. Sampras's win against Pat Rafter, 6-4, 6-1, eliminated the Australian and enabled Moya to qualify on a countback of games.

Moya will play Kafelnikov for a place in tomorrow's final against either Sampras or Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, who eliminated the world No 2, Michael Chang, 6-4, 7-5.