Henman has edge over Rusedski

Tennis

JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Telford

Greg Rusedski could only grin and bear it as Tim Henman recovered from 1-6, 0-1 to triumph in three sets and become the youngest holder of the men's singles title at the Guardian Direct National Championships yesterday.

The 21-year-old Henman is growing accustomed to quick turn-arounds. Having completed an astonishing two weeks, winning singles and doubles titles in Seoul and Shropshire and coping with time zones, jet lag and returning the fastest serve in the game with interest, he is due to set forth again this morning for a tournament in China.

This time last year, Henman visited the Nationals on crutches, having broken his right leg. He had restored himself as the nation's brightest prospect before the Canadian-born Rusedski was recruited as Britain's No 1 in May, and two contrasting matches during the weekend have underlined the Oxford player's potential.

In Saturday's semi-finals, Henman's dazzling stroke-play reinforced the wisdom of Jeremy Bates' decision to retire after Wimbledon next year. Having whipped Bates 6-2, 6-1, and then won the doubles title with the 33-year-old from Solihull, Henman, the third seed, appeared overawed and in danger of being humiliated by Rusedski in yesterday's final.

Henman's fortitude enabled him to transform the situation and win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. He had the confidence to capitalise when his opponent began to lose control of his mighty serve, and exposed Rusedski's vulnerability when drawn into trading shots.

"I feel very happy with what I've achieved," Henman said. "I've proved that I can play when everything goes well, and I've shown some guts to come back when the chips were down."

Henman, ranked 75 places below Rusedski at No 116 in the world, had planned to make a brisk start in the hope of putting pressure on his opponent's serve. The opening set flashed by in only 19 minutes, but Henman barely put two shots together.

When he lost his serve again in the opening game of the second set, it seemed that he was about to capitulate. Far from it. Encouraged when Rusedski double-faulted on the opening point of the second game, Henman began to make some telling returns, and the certainty gradually drained from his opponent's play.

Rusedski double-faulted 10 times in total, beckoning Henman into the match a second time after breaking for 2-1 in the second set, and then losing his serve at the start of the third.

Henman, in contrast, dropped only three points in his last six service games after taking a 3-2 lead in the second set, and demoralised Rusedski by winning seven consecutive games. He completed the victory after 80 minutes with a service winner and two aces.

"Tim deserved to win for sure," Rusedski said. "He showed a lot of character and a lot of belief. I tried too hard to serve well today. When I try too hard I get nervous and tight."

Apart from the other qualities he displayed during an encouraging week, Henman showed healthy perspective in his attitude towards his success here. "Don't get me wrong, winning the national title makes me very proud, but it doesn't do anything for my ranking. I'm now due to play in the smallest Challenger [tournament] there is."

Clare Wood, the top seed, won the women's singles title for a third time, having utilised her experience to outplay the 17-year-olds, Jasmine Choudhury and Amanda Janes, and the 23-year-old, Sam Smith.

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