Henman heralds Britons' advance

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The Independent Online
It is easy to see that Tim Henman is one of Britain's great white hopes. He wears a Persil endorsement on his sleeve. Encouragingly, the 20-year- old from Oxford was not alone yesterday in denying rumours that the nation's tennis is all washed up.

Purley's own Greg Rusedski (via his mother's Yorkshire birthright) rose to the challenge on the opening day of Wimbledon to win his first match since switching allegiance from Canada five weeks ago. And two other home victors, Chris Wilkinson and Miles Maclagan, will now duel to decide who carries the British banner into the third round.

It may be unwise, however, to look further. Henman's reward for a 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 win against Kenya's Paul Wekesa is a second -round match against Pete Sampras, the defending champion, who has won his last 15 contests on the lawns of the All England Club.

Rusedski must face Guy Forget, the Frenchman who has made a habit of eliminating Jeremy Bates on the two occasions the former British No 1 has threatened to advance to the quarter-finals. Yesterday, Forget, the No 16 seed, accounted for Yorkshire's Gary Henderson, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6.

There will be no success story from Bates this time. The second oldest player in the draw, at 33, he departed early, defeated by Derrick Rostagno, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. The 29-year-old Californian is ranked as low as No 303 as a consequence of injury problems.

Rusedski, the man who has supplanted Bates as the nation's top man, was escorted almost unnoticed from the dressing-rooms to Court Two, where he received a hearty reception. He almost stayed the night signing autographs after defeating Stephane Simian, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

The towering left-hander with the 137mph serve had been looking for a break since falling to Mark Petchey, of Essex, on his debut as a Briton at London's Queen's Club two weeks earlier, and he could hardly have hoped for a better one.

Twenty minutes before the match, Rusedski had expected to be playing Jim Grabb, an experienced American ranked No 98 in the world. But an ankle injury caused Grabb to withdraw, and Simian, his replacement, has not won a match since last December and is ranked No 264.

The Frenchman was the sixth "lucky loser" from the pre-qualifying tournament to be promoted to the main draw, though fortune had really beamed on Rusedski, who hit 12 aces. "I went out there determined just to be myself and to be more relaxed and comfortable," he said. "The spectacular ovation when I walked on helped me out a lot."

Wilkinson was unlikely to have joined in the applause for the new boy even if he had been less busy. Having expressed resentment at the importation of Rusedski to the extent of isolating himself from the British Davis Cup squad, the Southampton player was keen to cheer himself up.

Such is the mood at the Lawn Tennis Association after Wilkinson's bitter criticism that he may not receive another wild card for the tournament, or any other form of support for his career.

Few British players in recent times have made more of their opportunities at Wimbledon, and a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win against Hendrik Dreekman puts Wilkinson within sight of the third round for the third consecutive year. The German, it may be recalled, held six match points before losing to Sweden's Magnus Larsson in the quarter-finals of last year's French Open.

"The main thing is to prove myself," Wilkinson said. "My attitude is that I want to get into Wimbledon without having to rely on a wild card. This might be my last one. If it is, so be it. I can still live my life. It's not the end of the world."

Concerning Rusedski, he said: "I haven't changed my mind on the issue. I'm not having a go at anyone. I think it's wrong in principle. One week a person is Canadian, another week he's English. I've been through the system. It's taken me 13 years to do that. I think I'm more patriotic by making my stand."

Asked if there was a chance he may relent in his attitude towards the Davis Cup team, he said: "My heart is not in it. Maybe I'll get my heart back and things might change, but at the moment I can't see it happening."

Maclagan defeated a fellow baseliner, Renzo Furlan, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3. The Italian, who has been troubled by a wrist injury, is ranked 239 places above him at No 46. Maclagan, who was born in Zambia, of Scottish parents, and raised in Zimbabwe, has been a part of the British tennis scene since joining the Rover LTA School at Bisham Abbey 1988.

It was Maclagan's second win at Wimbledon. Last year he defeated Germany's Karsten Braasch, the idiosyncratic German who gave Sampras a thorough work-out on the Centre Court yesterday.

Maclagan admitted to being "a little edgy" at the start of his match, and he may experience similar feeling when confronted by Wilkinson. "My record against him is not very good," he said. "I lost to him at Nottingham last week, and I've lost to him a couple of times before that. But every day can be different."

Nor does Henman have happy memories of playing against Wilkinson. He broke an ankle when they contested the quarter-finals of a challenger tournament in Singapore last September, and the injury kept him out of the game until January. "From a tennis point of view I don't think it was the best thing to happen," Henman said, "but I feel a little bit stronger mentally since coming through something like that."

Henman, ranked No 174, has played Sampras once before, losing to him, 6-1, 6-2, on a rubberised concrete court in Tokyo last year. "It was a great experience, and I learnt a great deal from it," he recounted. "It's a great honour to be playing the defending champion. It's what you put in all the hard work for, to get an opportunity to play somebody like that.

"It's a different surface, so the points are going to be played in a different way. In that match, I was serving and standing back quite a lot of the time. On grass I will be coming forward a lot more."

Sampras, relieved to get his quest for a Wimbledon hat-trick underway, guarded against over-confidence. "There is no reason why Henman shouldn't think he can beat me," he said. "It's grass, and anything can happen."

Wimbledon reports, results and order of play, page 26


Four Brits reach the men's singles second round - Henman, Maclagan, Wilkinson and Rusedski

Britain guaranteed at least one man in the third round - Maclagan plays Wilkinson in round two

Veteran Wilander ends Petchey's hopes, Bates out

Seeds Krajicek and Majoli fall at the first hurdle

Champion Sampras safely through on Centre Court