Tennis: Henman displays determined mood

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TIM HENMAN reached the final of the Mercedes Cup in Los Angeles with an impressive straight-sets defeat of the Frenchman Guillaume Raoux on Saturday night. The British No 2 seed won 7-5, 6-3 to set up a final against Andre Agassi, which was due to be played late yesterday.

The fifth-seeded Agassi had put himself into position to claim his second title in as many weeks with a 6-0, 7-6 victory over Justin Gimelstob.

Henman played effective serve-and-volley tennis, firing eight aces in a match which lasted only 79 minutes. "This is probably the best match I've played this week," Henman said.

The British No 1 fell behind 3-1 after dropping serve in the third game. But he recovered, putting the set back on serve two games later with a break of his own. After grabbing a 6-5 lead, Henman broke again for the set when Raoux hit a forceful forehand out.

"He's hitting the ball very solid from the baseline," Henman said of Raoux. "But I hung in there. I kept making him play a lot of balls and got the break back. I started to put the pressure on him."

In the second set, Henman relied on a lone service break in the fourth game to give him victory. He served out the match, producing a pair of service winners that were timed at more than 130 mph.

Agassi showed even more dominating form than Henman against a player who made his name locally, playing for UCLA on the American college circuit. In the first set Agassi allowed Gimelstob a mere 11 points and did not lose a game, an excellent example of his return to form after a miserable 1997 season in which he dropped out of the world's top 100.

"I'm feeling pretty confident, no question, but I'm also respectful of what it requires to continue that tennis," said the Las Vegas entertainer, whose ranking is now back up to 13th in the world.

Gimelstob, who had produced the upset of the tournament by beating the top seed and US Open champion, Patrick Rafter, in the quarter-finals, gave Agassi a more competitive second set, taking it to a tie-break. But the fifth seed never looked in danger of being extended further as he dominated in the tie-break, winning it 7-2.

l The former world No 1, Thomas Muster of Austria, has withdrawn from next week's ATP Tour event in Amsterdam. Muster, now ranked 21, hurt his shoulder in last week's Kitzbuhel tournament. He may also miss the US Open at the end of August.