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Tennis: Henman and Rusedski survive shaky spells

TIM HENMAN and Greg Rusedski won their opening matches at the Lipton Championships yesterday, although Henman came close to becoming a blushing world No 6 as he struggled to overcome his dodgy forehand in defeating Cecil Mamit, a 22-year-old American ranked 80 places below him.

The British No 1's worries began in the opening game, when he squandered two opportunities to break serve, and persisted until he broke for 4-1 in the final set en route to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. Henman, who received a bye in the first round, now meets Jerome Golmard in round three; an ominous prospect considering that he has lost twice to the Frenchman, most recently in the quarter-finals in Dubai last month.

Rusedski evidently did not relish spending Friday at No 13 and set about raising his ranking back towards the top 10. The British No 2 advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Adrian Voinea, of Romania, and now plays Germany's Hendrik Dreekmann, who defeated the South African Wayne Ferreira, 6-4, 6-4.

Britain's interest in the women's singles evaporated when Sam Smith, the nation's only representative in the main draw, was defeated in the first round by Germany's Andrea Glass, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Smith, ranked No 59, five places above Glass, led 2-0 in the final set and lost the next five games.

Voinea, ranked No 77, had not experienced the might of Rusedski's serve before and may have thought he was on to a good thing when he managed to pass his opponent three times when breaking in the opening game. The Romanian then beckoned Rusedski into the contest by double-faulting twice when leading 4-3. Rusedski saved two break points at 4-4 before cracking Voinea in the next game. Rusedski netted a backhand drive on a break point for 3-1 in the second set, and double-faulted in the seventh game to trail, 3-4. A forehand pass down the line put Rusedski level at 4-4, and after surviving a double-fault on his first game point for 5-4, he hustled Voinea into missing three backhands in the final game. A potent service return on Rusedski's second match point lured Voinea into netting a forehand half-volley.

When Boris Becker made his debut at the United States Open in 1985, spectators marvelled at his disregard for injury as he dived about the concrete courts. Now American crowds, in common with others elsewhere, are simply pleased to see old "Boom-Boom" fit enough to be able to stand up and play.

The 31-year-old German did not let anybody down in the opening round on Thursday night, least of all himself. Fears that sudden injury or illness would cause him to withdraw, as on so many occasions in recent times, proved groundless. Becker was even able to steady himself after an ominous second set against Gianluca Pozzi to defeat the Italian left-hander, 6- 4, 1-6, 6-4.

Becker has set his mind on finishing his playing career with one last appearance at Wimbledon, where we imagined that the three-times champion's valediction was part of the archive footage from 1997. "I'm going to retire this summer," he reminded us after the Pozzi match. "Until then, I want to give it a good show. I want to prepare myself for my last Grand Slam. I think that's enough reason for me to work hard again and to prepare myself as a professional."

His nostalgia for Wimbledon took hold at Christmas. "I was thinking about what I was going to do," Becker said, "whether to prepare myself for Davis Cup, which last year was the reason I continued playing. But Davis Cup could be very long. We have a strong team with [Nicolas] Kiefer and [Tommy] Haas. Chances are we'll be in the semi-finals. Then it's October. It was something I didn't want to do. I decided to stop this summer because my wife is expecting my second baby. I thought that was a good moment for me to call it all off."

Becker plans to play on the concrete courts of Hong Kong and Tokyo and then switch to the clay in Munich and Rome before setting foot on grass at the Stella Artois Championships at the Queen's Club.

And where better than Wimbledon, "to finish my career where it really started for me. Hopefully I'll be able to walk out there again and play good tennis."