Tennis: Ferrero's fright for Henman

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The Independent Online
INJURY ENDED Greg Rusedski's defence of the Paris Indoor title yesterday. His last big match of the year is likely to be his wedding to Lucy Connor on 4 December. And for an uncomfortably long time it seemed that Tim Henman's last big match of the season would be his wedding to Lucy Heald on 11 December.

But Henman recovered after losing the opening set and from being 3-1 down in the final set to overcome Juan Carlos Ferrero, a masterful young Spaniard, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, and advance to the third round. So Henman's next big match is against Australia's Mark Philippoussis. Victory would keep the British No 2 in contention for the eight-man ATP Tour Championship in Hanover on 23 November.

The bad luck/good luck theme continued throughout the day at the Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy. Pete Sampras withdrew from the tournament because of a back injury after playing his first match since 20 August. And Andre Agassi was guaranteed succession to Sampras as the year-end No 1 after Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, eliminated Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian world No 2, in the second round, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Agassi celebrated his elevation with a 6-4, 6-3 win against Younes El Aynaoui, of Morocco.

Rusedski retired after losing the opening set of his second-round match against Albert Costa, of Spain, 7-6. Rusedski, who was unable to convert any of four set points, had a recurrence of a strained right hamstring that troubled him during his quarter-final victory against Todd Martin in Stuttgart last Friday. "I just gave it a go in the [Eurocard Open] semis in Stuttgart," said Rusedski, who was defeated there by Richard Krajicek. "I had treatment for the injury, and got here on Tuesday hoping to be ready to play. I'm thinking that's probably going to be it for the year most likely. I don't want to risk making anything worse.

"The most important thing is to be ready for next year. I should still be in the top 16 unless something really bizarre happens this week."

Sampras, who saved three match points in defeating Francisco Clavet, of Spain, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, in a second-round contest that did not end until 1.10 yesterday morning, suffered back spasms; probably a reaction to not having played for so long. "In the middle of the second set, I started feeling my left side getting tight," Sampras said. "I continued to play, and by the end of the third set my back was in complete spasm.

"When I got to my hotel, I had a hard time getting around my room. This morning, there was absolutely no chance of me practising or playing.

"I'm going to go home, take four or five days, and do a test. In about a week or so I'll decide whether to play in Hanover. I'd love to play. It's a huge event. But my health is my job."

Henman has lost two or his three previous matches against Philippoussis. He won their first meeting in two sets on a concrete court in Sydney in 1996. Philippoussis responded by winning in two sets indoors in Basle in 1997 and in four sets on concrete at the 1998 US Open.

While the big-serving Australian enjoyed an impressive result against Richard Krajicek yesterday, 7-5, 6-3, on the Centre Court, Henman struggled on Court No 1 to avoid adding to some ominous opening-round defeats.

The 19-year-old Ferrero, a "lucky loser" from the pre-qualifying tournament, showed from the start that he was ready to pounce on Henman's errors, particularly if the Briton's first serve and forehand were suspect.

Broken in the opening game, Henman was unable to counter Ferrero's inspired ground-stroke play during the remainder of the first set. Although Henman broke for 2-0 in the second set, two double faults handicapped him in the third game, Ferrero breaking back with a fierce forehand service return. The Spaniard double-faulted to 2-5 in the tie-break, but continued to resist Henman, who eventually battled through 9-7.

Two spectacular backhand service returns gave Ferrero a 3-1 lead in the final set. Henman immediately broke back to love, and made the decisive break for 5-4 with a smash to a sideline and a compact forehand volley.