Setback for Becker

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The Independent Online
Boris Becker made an inauspicious start to his clay-court season when he lost in the first round of the Monte Carlo Open yesterday. The former Wimbledon champion was beaten 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 by Italy's Renzo Furlan.

Back on clay for the first time in a season so far marred by injuries, Becker made a good start but soon found it difficult adapting to the slow surface and bowed out in just over two hours.

The loss may not be a surprise since Becker, ranked 12th in the world, only resumed playing in Tokyo last week after a two-month break because of tendinitis. He had also complained of thigh pains in Tokyo.

But the defeat, in only his sixth match this year, was a further setback for the German, who has lost three finals in Monte Carlo.

''He was very good in the first set, especially at the net. And then he started playing poorly and I realised I only needed to play solid tennis," Furlan, ranked 65 in the world, said

''It's a big disappointment because I was so close to a win but to be so close when I served so poorly was a surprise," Becker said.

Two other players whose season has been hampered by injury are Britain's Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski. They were back on the practice courts at Queen's Club, London, yesterday searching for full fitness.

Henman, who last played in the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne five weeks ago when he lost to Spanish qualifier Julian Alonso, has remained at No 15 in the world, although several of his closest rivals have narrowed the points gap. Rusedski has played just two matches in two comeback attempts since hurting his wrist in the San Jose final against Pete Sampras in February, but he has dropped only four places, from 36 to 40.

Arthroscopic surgery appears to have healed Henman's right elbow, and he felt no pain yesterday. "There was no pain whatsoever, which is a pleasing sign," he said.

Now he will continue to practise regularly, although he does not intend to play in any tournaments until the Italian Open in Rome in mid-May. Rusedski was hoping to get back earlier than Rome but is still undecided about his plans.

While Henman and Rusedski are limbering up again, Andrew Richardson, the Lincolnshire left-hander, has gone up 28 places in the world rankings from 262 to 234.

This follows his exploits in the ATP Tour event in Tokyo last week when he came through the qualifying rounds and then beat Sweden's Tomas Nydahl in the first round of the main draw.