Dark days for hapless Henman

Tennis

The encouraging news is that Britain has a player through to the quarter- finals of the Stella Artois Championships for only the third time since the event started in 1979. Greg Rusedski will meet Pat Rafter today, having defeated the Australian's compatriot, Scott Draper, in the third round.

So whither Tim Henman, the British No 1 and the No 4 seed here at Queen's? Defeated, and ready to accept a wild card for next week's Nottingham Open in search of match practice to sharpen his game and rebuild his confidence for Wimbledon in 10 days' time.

Henman, who 12 months ago became the nation's first Wimbledon men's singles quarter-finalist for 23 years, was beaten yesterday by Germany's Jens Knippschild, ranked No 105 in the world and competing on grass for the first time since he was a junior six years ago.

Knippschild, a 22-year-old with a "Gazza" blond hairdo, demonstrated a penchant for upsets earlier in the week by eliminating Jason Stoltenberg, a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, and Olivier Delaitre, who dispatched Henman in the first round of the French Open.

Yesterday's defeat, 7-6, 6-3, was a continuation of Henman's disappointing form since the final of the European Community Championship in Antwerp in February. In March he underwent surgery to remove pieces of floating bone from his right elbow, and he has won only two matches since - against Roberto Carretero, who retired injured during the third set of their contest at the Italian Open, and Andrew Richardson, a compatriot, in the second round here (Henman received a bye in the first round).

The disturbing aspect of yesterday's performance was how much Henman's wayward serving contributed to his defeat after he had broken Knippschild to lead 4-3 in the opening set. Two double-faults gave the German the incentive to level, and he proceeded to win the tie-break, 7-5.

Henman, broken for 1-2 in the second set, could hardly blame himself for failing to break back immediately. He had two opportunities in the fourth game, narrowly missing with a backhand lob on the first, and being aced by Knippschild on the second.

But Henman came close to gifting the fifth game with two double-faults, rescuing himself with four consecutive winning volleys, and finally lost the match with two successive double-faults, taking his total to seven.

"You've always got to be aggressive if you're going for serve and volley on first and second serve," Henman said, "and inevitably you're going to miss some.''

The comment was typical of Henman's responses when interviewed about the display. His attitude suggested that the defeat was merely a blip on his landscape, par for the course at Queen's, where he has won only one match in each of the past four years.

One reporter remarked that Henman seemed quite sanguine about the whole thing. "Am I any other way?" he replied. "I would have preferred to have won, but there's no reason why I shouldn't have a good run at Wimbledon. There's no reason to press any panic buttons.''

Before Henman's defeat yesterday (he is still in the doubles with Pete Sampras), the showcourts were the province of four left-handers, Goran Ivansevic against Britain's Martin Lee on the Centre Court and Rusedski versus Draper on Court No 1.

Rusedski was in splendid form against Draper, defeating the talented Australian, 6-3, 6-2. "I was just more relaxed today," Rusedski said, reporting no twinges from the wrist injury which had interrupted his impresssive run of success in the United States earlier in the year, including back-to-back wins against Michael Chang and Andre Agassi.

Lee had what is best described as a learning experience against the big- serving Ivanisevic, the No 3 seed. The first set disappeared in only 18 minutes as the 19-year-old from Worthing attempted to pick out his opponent's deliveries.

"It was impossible to return, because I haven't been used to playing against that speed of serve," Lee said, acknowledging that practising with Rusedski had helped a little. Goran's serve is even bigger," he said,

QUARTER-FINAL LINE-UP: Sampras v Bjorkman, Knippschild v Philippoussis, Golmard v Ivanisevic, Rafter v Rusedski.

Venus Williams, the 16-year-old American tennis prodigy, has turned down a wild card into next week's Direct Line Insurance women's championship at Eastbourne because she wants to get extra practice by qualifying for the main draw.

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