Tennis: Henman and Rusedski close in on the final

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Britain's two leading players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, moved closer to a meeting in tomorrow's final when both eased through the quarter- finals of the British National Championships here yesterday.

Henman beat Nick Gould of Bristol, 6-1, 6-3, in 65 minutes, while Rusedski defeated the 21-year-old Norfolk player Tom Spinks, 6-3, 6-0, in six minutes under the hour. It is difficult to see either being beaten in today's semi-finals, especially as their opponents had hard matches yesterday. Paul Robinson, who will take on Rusedski in a battle of left-handers, saved three match points at 6-7 in the final set before beating another left-hander, Andrew Richardson, 1-6, 7-6, 9-7, after 2hr 32min on court.

Chris Wilkinson, the British No 3 who now meets Henman, played a similar match against Jamie Delgado of Maidenhead, winning 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 in 2hr 19min. He saved a match point when 4-5 down in the third.

Henman and Rusedski stressed how relaxed they are this week but both admit that should they meet in the final, there will be no holds barred. They have met twice before, with Henman beating Rusedski in three sets in the final here last year and then defeating him 7-6, 7-5 in the Czech Open in Ostrava last month.

Rusedski said: "I've worked out a plan with my coach, Brian Teacher, on the best way of playing Tim but I'm saying nothing. If we do meet in the final you'll have the chance to see if the plan works."

Henman insisted: "I would like to win the tournament again but I'm not losing any sleep over it. There has been healthy rivalry in my two previous meetings with Greg and he has not enjoyed losing. But we still have to win another match before we can think about the final."

Henman and Jeremy Bates, the holders, were beaten 6-1, 6-3 in the semi- finals of the men's doubles by Danny Sapsford of Surrey and Stoke's Andrew Foster. The result means Bates, winner of the men's singles six times and the doubles seven times, has played his last match in the championships as he insists this is his last appearance in the Nationals.

The women's singles final, to be played today, will be between two 21- year-old left-handers, Claire Taylor of Banbury and Julie Pullin from Sussex. Taylor will start as favourite after beating the defending champion, Clare Wood of Sussex, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, but Pullin, who defeated Lucie Ahl of Devon, 6-1, 6-4, will not lack support of her own.

Pullin had a comfortable victory, leading by a set and 5-1 before Ahl delayed the end by winning three successive games but Taylor might easily have lost. Wood, who has won the title three times, led 5-3 in the final set and served for the match at 5-4. But Taylor rose to the occasion, breaking Wood to love for 5-5 and then taking the next two games to 30.