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TENNIS: Familiar foe fells Henman

TIM HENMAN will have an instant opportunity to get over the disappointment of his Rotterdam final defeat in the Guardian Direct Cup in Battersea today.

The British No 1 lost in straight sets to the Australian Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the World Indoor Tournament in Rotterdam yesterday. He has around 24 hours' rest before being due back on court in the doubles at Battersea Park tonight with Greg Rusedski.

Kafelnikov fought back from 5-2 down in the second set yesterday, winning the final four points of the tie-break 7-3 to secure a 6-2, 7-6 victory. The Russian now holds a 7-3 advantage in matches between the two, including five wins indoors. It could be six by the end of the week, if the two meet in the final at Battersea.

"I served badly, but overall it was a postive week and I'll go to London with a lot of confidence," Henman said. "In [the semi-final] I made the big points, today I didn't. One day you make them, one day you don't. I probably played against the best baseliner in the world, and the best player in the world at the moment."

Kafelnikov did not need to be at his best in the fifth game of the first set at 30-30. Henman hit an overhead, and then a forehand into the net to trail 3-2. Kafelnikov won the next three games for the first set.

Henman did hit some terrific shots and rediscovered some of his better form in the second set, breaking Kafelnikov to lead 3-1, only for the Russian to strike back, with Henman double-faulting before losing the game to love.

The British No 1 fought on, taking the second of his break chances to lead 4-2 and then holding serve for a 5-2 advantage, only for Kafelnikov to break back - helped by another double-fault - and send the set to a tie-break. The swift, agile Kafelnikov, with the tie-break 3-3, claimed the next four points to clinch the win.

"It's always a pleasure to play against Henman," Kafelnikov said. "He pushed me to the limit. I wish I could play him every day."

Henman and Rusedski, getting some much needed practice together before the Davis Cup meting with the United States at Easter, are due on court in Battersea at around 7 o'clock this evening against the South Africans, Piet Norval and Kevin Ullyett. They follow possibly the best match of the opening day of the pounds 500,000 tournament, as the three-times Wimbledon runner-up Goran Ivanisevic faces Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands.

Romania's Andrei Pavel is first on court against David Prinosil of Germany, followed by Hicham Arazi against Bohdan Ulihrach. The Australian Open finalist, Thomas Enqvist, then takes on Switzerland's Marc Rosset.

Henman and Rusedski, second and third seed respectively, are both in the bottom half of the draw and begin their singles challenge tomorrow. The pair are on course for a semi-final meeting with Kafelnikov expected to justify his No 1 seeding

"I'm looking forward to playing in Battersea, it's just 10 minutes from my house so it's a real home event," Henman said. "It's a unique situation to play an indoor tournament in London - everyone's used to us playing on the grass at Wimbledon.

"It's a great atmosphere, I'm sure it'll be even better than last year and hopefully, if I play well, I'll be pretty tough to beat. There'll be a lot of really good players in the field, probably stronger than last year. If I can play some good tennis like I have over the last six or seven months then I'll have a good chance."

In Hanover yesterday, the top seed Jana Novotna won a thrilling clash of styles and generations when she beat Venus Williams 6-4 6-4 in the Faber Grand Prix final. The elegant Czech veteran showed more composure when it mattered on her way to a convincing win over the powerful American second seed.

In Memphis on Saturday, Tommy Haas, of Germany, enjoyed a surprise victory over the top seed Todd Martin, 6-3, 7-6, to reach the final of the ATP St Jude tournament. Haas, the third seed, was due to face the American, Jim Courier, in the final last night.

Results, Digest, page 11