Henman sets up showdown with Becker

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Tennis

Tim Henman, serving superbly and showing no sign of nerves until the closing stages, beat American MaliVai Washington 7-6, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals of the Compaq Grand Slam Cup here yesterday, a victory that doubled his prize-money for the year.

The 22-year-old British No 1 is now assured of more than pounds 260,000 from this tournament alone and still has a chance of a winning the first prize of pounds 1m.

But to do that he will have arguably his toughest test of his career: trying to beat the three- times Wimbledon champion, Boris Becker, in a best of five sets semi-final tomorrow.

"This is definitely one of my best victories, indoors or outdoors. I played particularly well in the Czech Open in Ostrava, but this match is definitely up there with my best performances," said Henman who is relishing the prospect of playing Becker.

"I'm aware of the money. Make no bones about it. But what is more important is that I am playing Boris Becker in his home town over five sets on Saturday and I don't think you can get much better than that.

"Perhaps playing him on the Centre Court at Wimbledon might be better but that is also his home, according to him."

The German, who sent Switzerland's Jakob Hlasek back into retirement with a quick 6-4, 6-1 victory, is one of the greatest indoor players in history and will have 10,000 partisan spectators willing him to victory.

Henman, however, will not be too concerned. He was not even in this event on Sunday, coming in following the withdrawals of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. And he has now beaten Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, and Washington, both in straight sets.

His achievement in reaching the last four of this lucrative event is another fine performance by the most talented player that Britain has produced since Roger Taylor.

Certainly Henman completely outplayed Washington until he missed a match point and then dropped his service when serving for the match at 5-1 in the second set. It was only a temporary blip though Washington pulled back to 3-5.

Henman, serving for the match for a second time, did not make the same mistake. He reached 40-15 and then forced yet another error from a demoralised Washington to win the contest after 75 minutes.

Henman's service was a revelation. It has been improving month by month but today he sent down 19 aces and repeatedly served at more than 130 mph. This is close to Greg Rusedski's fastest deliveries and Rusedski has nothing like the rest of Henman's all-court game.

Even though the first set went to a tie-break Washington always looked the likeliest man to lose it. Henman dropped only five points in six service games in that opening set and then won the tie-break 7-3 after 40 minutes of play.

COMPAQ GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich): Quarter-finals: B Becker (Ger) bt J Hlasek (Swit) 6-4 6-1; T Henman (GB) bt M Washington (US) 7-6 6-3.

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