TENNIS; Big guns trained on leading Britons

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The Independent Online
GREG RUSEDSKI and Tim Henman both aim to reach the semi-finals of leading tournaments when they continue their build-up to the US Open in two different American cities today.

Rusedski's comeback after two months with an ankle injury has so far produced two encouraging wins at the RCA Championships in Indianapolis, earning a meeting with either the French Open finalist Alex Corretja or the big-serving Australian, Mark Philippoussis.

Henman's recovery from a set and a break down against the improving Italian Davide Sanguinetti at the Pilot Pen International in New Haven gained him an encounter with Richard Krajicek, the Dutchman whose defence of the Wimbledon title he ended last year.

Rusedski has already done enough to put behind him fears about his fitness with wins over two very different opponents, the hard-hitting Swede Magnus Larsson and the baseliner Francisco Clavet.

His 6-1, 7-6 success against Clavet revealed Rusedski still has the ability to play tight contests despite his lack of match practice.

"In the first set I served really well, though in the second I started feeling the heat a bit," explained Rusedski. "But I managed to pull through and I feel pleased I've proved I am 100 per cent fit."

He added that he would keep a strapping on the ankle until after the US Open, which starts in New York in just over a week's time. "I just tape it up with a light tape at the moment. It's nothing special," Rusedski added.

Henman's win over Sanguinetti was characterised by tremendous commitment, enterprising attempts to reach the net in the face of excellent groundstrokes and several noisy displays of emotion which once might have been alien to him.

Smashing his racket on the ground early in the second set earned a code of conduct warning, but it also fired him up to an extra effort against an opponent who surprised everyone by reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals this year.

"I was really satisfied to get through a match like that when I wasn't playing as well as I can," Henman said. "That's been a problem in the past.

"I realised I needed to be more aggressive and that's what turned the match around. But I have shown over the past two or three years I am able to dig out of awkward situations."

Henman has been presented with an extra incentive for beating Krajicek again, because all three top seeds, the Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras, the US Open champion Pat Rafter and the Australian Open champion Petr Korda, were beaten.

Sampras had been looking for another shot at Rafter after their tense three-set final on Sunday ended on a controversial overrule that left Sampras furious. However, Sampras took a step backward in his quest to regain the world No 1 ranking from Marcelo Rios with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat to a qualifier, Leander Paes of India.

"I felt very flat today," Sampras after his loss to a player ranked 98 places below him. "I give him credit, he played well. But I wasn't the player I usually am out there. You can't afford to be flat in this league. Maybe, playing three weeks in a row took its toll."

Korda lost to 13th-seeded Bohdan Ulihrach 7-6, 6-3. Unforced errors proved his undoing. Korda had one set point in the first set tiebreaker before netting what appeared to be a a simple forehand shot. Ulihrach, who had never taken more than three games in a set from Korda, eventually won the first set with a forehand crosscourt drive. Ulihrach broke in the second game of the second set and held his own serve the rest of the way to complete the conquest.

Rafter, coming off successive titles in Toronto and Cincinnati, was eased out by the 16th-seeded Frenchman Guillaume Raoux 7-6, 6-3.

Raoux halted the second-seeded Australian's winning streak at 11 with a solid performance from beginning to end. Rafter, who was playing for the fourth consecutive week, said he will spend a few days on the beach in Bermuda before resuming preparation for his defence of the US Open title later this month.