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Tennis: Henman & Co in final

TIM HENMAN will compete in the first clay court doubles final of his career at the Monte Carlo Open today. The British No 1, partnering the Frenchman Olivier Delaitre for the first time, was involved in a fine 6-4, 7-5 win against Don Johnson, of the United States, and Cyril Suk, of the Czech Republic, in yesterday's semi-finals.

The Anglo-French pair began their alliance at Delaitre's request only 10 minutes before the deadline for signing in for the doubles. "He was running round the locker room, looking hard for a partner," Henman said. Their opponents today will be the Czech pair Jiri Novak (who eliminated Britain's Greg Rusedski in the singles) and David Rikl. The winners will share a first prize of $155,400.

Henman, a doubles silver-medalist with Neil Broad at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, has won two doubles titles on the ATP Tour: in Basle in 1997, with the Swiss Marc Rosset, and with Greg Rusedski at the Guardian Direct Cup in Battersea Park in February.

Latin America will command centre stage for the singles final between Marcelo Rios, of Chile, and the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. Rios, the No 9 seed, who defeated the Frenchman Jerome Golmard 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the semi-finals, won the title in 1997, the year Kuerten won the French Open title. The No 13 seed's progress here comes a week after he had to withdraw from a tournament in Barcelona because of a back injury.

Felix Mantilla was the winner of that event in his home town, and the Spaniard was unbeaten in 10 matches until meeting Kuerten in the semi- finals yesterday. Mantilla, the No 15 seed, had saved four match points in defeating his compatriot Albert Costa in the previous round but could not deter Kuerten, who won 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 after two hours and five minutes.

Although Kuerten looked unhappy with the conditions during the opening set, he gradually settled into his rhythm. Mantilla took the opening three games in spite of having to call for the physiotherapist to treat a strained calf muscle during the first change-over. Even though Kuerten gained the initiative at the start of the second set, Mantilla recovered from 1-4 to 3-4, only for Kuerten to restore the break in the next game. Serving for the set at 5-3, the Brazilian had to fend off two break points before levelling.

The final set went with serve until the seventh game, when Mantilla netted a backhand to be broken. Kuerten did well to hold for 5-3, saving a break point with a drop shot and then double-faulting for the fifth time in the match to squander a game point. Kuerten then produced his 11th ace to go to advantage.

Mantilla nagged away until the end, forcing Kuerten on the defensive when the Brazilian served for the match at 5-4. Kuerten saved two break points before smashing the winner.