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Rusedski keeps Tim and Greg show waiting

TWENTY-FOUR hours after Horror Friday was a day for lengthy assessment at the Queen's Club of Britain's prospects for Wimbledon, there being little else to do on an afternoon of steady rain which prevented the semi- finals getting under way in the rain-plagued Stella Artois Championships.

Greg Rusedski's chances of being fit for Wimbledon looked bleak after ankle ligament damage was diagnosed following his fall on a slippery court at Queen's on Friday, while Tim Henman was putting the best possible face on his nightmare defeat by a Belgian-born, London-based Italian qualifier, ranked 253 in the world and maintaining he was in better form now than a year ago, when he reached Wimbledon's last eight.

Rusedski will travel to Nottingham this weekend to stay at the home of his coach, Tony Pickard, on the edge of Sherwood Forest, and then attend the tournament in Nottingham on a daily basis. Not to play this event, which he won last year, but to avail himself of the skills of the ATP Tour trainers and physiotherapists who will be working there.

"We won't be able to tell until later next week what his chances are," said Rusedski's agent, Fran Ridler.

Not for the first time in his young career, Henman had followed a superb victory with the performance well below his level of ability. Having seen off Goran Ivanisevic in three tight sets, the Oxford 23-year-old led Laurence Tieleman 6-2, 5-2, but contrived to lose in three sets, having missed two match points.

Chewing gum vigorously, Henman's coach, David Felgate, pleaded: "It isn't a day for hard words. If he was playing and not trying I would have a go, but he had played a good match earlier and nobody is more disappointed than Tim. Friday was just a lost opportunity. I woke up in the night thinking it was all a dream. In terms of Wimbledon, the preparation is better than it has been for the last two years."

"Big big disappointment," was Henman's own summation. "I know as well as anyone I had a great opportunity to win the tournament and thinking about those opportunities doesn't make it any easier. That's why I have got to move on."

Fielding a tabloid question about whether the defeat had hurt inside, Henman said: "Of course it did. I am sick that it has happened. It was not a nice lesson to have to learn. But there was no soft-pedalling. I was here to fight 100 per cent.

"The match was there for the taking, but I made errors at the wrong time. I will be thinking about it for the next couple of days and the next time I get to that situation perhaps I will be a little more aggressive."

Understandably, Henman was not too aggressive yesterday when, partnered by the world number one, Pete Sampras, he exited lamely from the doubles, beaten 6-1, 6-1, by the Indian Davis Cup pairing of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes in 40 minutes.

"The main purpose was to come out of that match unscathed seeing what happened to Greg," he explained. "The last thing I wanted was to pick up an injury before Wimbledon. In any case, it would not have mattered what Pete and I did, they played great doubles.

"Greg was very much on my mind. When it happens to someone in the same tournament you realise how something like that can happen in a split-second. I expect he has made that same movement millions of times and never had any problem. It's definitely a bit slippery out there and the last thing either of us wanted to do was to pick up a silly injury. That's why we were both pretty cautious."

Henman will prepare this week for Wimbledon on the practice courts of the All England Club where, he says, the surface is "more like real grass courts, where the ball slides and stays lower". He may also play in one of the exhibition events in the London area which precede Wimbledon.

"What has happened at Queen's has no bearing on the way I will play at Wimbledon. Mentally and physically, I am in better shape this year than I was last. I am hitting the ball really well. I played damn well to beat Ivanisevic and I know my game is in good shape. Last year I was struggling with my health, not to mention my game. So to be 100 per cent healthy is a much better situation."

There was time for one final reflection on the humiliation by Tieleman. "Perhaps there wasn't enough pressure on me in that match, in a weird kind of way." Henman can be sure the pressure, not to mention the expectations of a nation, will be truly on him a week from now.