Tennis: Henman and Rusedski maintain composure despite inconsistency

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The Independent Online
Early days, but Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman had much to think about, not least the quality of their serving, as they departed the Qatar Mobil Open to prepare for the Australian Open, which starts next Monday. John Roberts reports from Doha.

Having eliminated Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman respectively in the quarter-finals of the Qatar Mobil Open, Fabrice Santoro and Petr Korda contested last night's final. The two Britons, meanwhile, were Down Under but not downhearted.

Henman is due to open his defence of the Sydney International title on the ATP Tour tomorrow with a first-round match against the Australian left-hander Mark Woodforde. Rusedski will warm up in an exhibition event in Melbourne featuring Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic and Michael Chang.

When the top-seeded Rusedski's mighty serve failed to ignite against Santoro, the British No 1 found the rest of his game under threat from the world No 29, one of the smartest players on the circuit. The Frenchman, who plays two-handed on both wings, punished Rusedski with drives across the court and down the lines, low approach shots and lobs, to win, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

"I didn't come out firing on all cylinders, and Fabrice had a good start," Rusedski said. "I made too many unforced errors and missed too many easy volleys, and he played a very smart match. He's a crafty player.

"I'm not too worried about it, to be quite honest. The preparation right now is for the Australian Open. It's the first week of the year. I'll try to learn from it and put it to good use. Last year I didn't win a match until nearly February, so I'm two up already." Rusedski, who says he is fully fit, seemed somewhat restrained, by his standards, when serving, even in the matches he won against Juan-Albert Viloca and Karim Alami. "It was a little bit windy, so you're not going for so much," Rusedski said. "The courts are a little slower in Doha, and the balls are different. If I hit the ball it will be fine! It's no big deal. I guess I'll have to get started in Australia."

Henman, the fifth seed, was also let down by his first serve, but he almost rescued a fascinating match against Korda, the No 3 seed, with a much improved performance from the back of the court. Korda prevailed, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

"The way I played from the baseline and the way I hit passing shots is something I worked on over the New Year, and it started to pay off," Henman said. "But the lack of consistency in my serve is still the area that I give my opponents opportunities. When I serve consistently well, I won't get broken, but when I miss first serves and give them half chances, somebody like Korda is obviously a player who is going to take them.

"The way I'm moving round the court is as good as I've ever moved. The way I'm hitting from the baseline is very good. I just think my serving is very up and down, and that's something you have to improve. If you're not doing it consistently on the practice court, the it's difficult to do it consistently in a match. I've got to put that right.

"It's more of a mental thing, just to make sure that you are committed to the shot. You want to keep percentages up, and you end up taking a little bit off and trying to place it in the court. And that's no good, because a) you'll probably miss the serve because you don't really go for it, and b) you're not going to dominate the returner. So I have to get in the practise of standing up there and banging down the big serves in practice, just continually. I'll miss them, but the more and more I do, the more consistent I'll become.

"I know I can serve great, and there have been lots of occasions I have won matches by doing that. But it's those days when you don't have the rhythm that you'd like, and that's the time when you've got to be able to use what you've done in practice."