Having won his last two ATP Tour tournaments, the British No 1 was unable to sustain a promising week. He did not show anything like the strength of his recent form until the closing stages of a match that began to run away from him from as early as the second point.
Greg Rusedski restored British pride with a straight-sets win against Pat Rafter, the world No 2. After trying all year to defeat a top 10 opponent, Rusedski has achieved it twice in a week - Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov (No 9) fell to him in the first round.
Rafter had beaten Rusedski in five of their six previous meetings, memorably in the final of last year's United States Open. Although broken yesterday when serving for the match at 5-4, Rusedski lost only three points in a tie-break to prevail, 6-3, 7-6.
Sampras's opening set against flashed by in 21 minutes, the Briton collecting only eight points on the way. Ranked No 10 in the world, Henman had the misfortune to play Sampras on an occasion when the 27-year-old Californian's form matched his reputation. The strokes that flowed from Sampras's racket were a joy. He has rarely played so well all year, except at Wimbledon, where Sampras beat a game Henman in the semi-finals.
The American, who had received the gift of a wild card from Boris Becker in order to enter an event which he hoped would bolster his prospects of ending a sixth consecutive year as the world No 1, was unrecognisable from the player beaten by South Africa's Wayne Ferreira in the first round in Basle last week - an event Henman won, defeating Andre Agassi in the final.
Henman was unable to find consistency with his first serve and was broken at the start of the match. It was the first time his serve had been broken all week, and Sampras is not the man to spurn such incentives.
Sampras produced three aces in winning the second game, and Henman compounded his problems with a double-fault to lose the third. The Briton last lost a set to love against Marcelo Rios when the Chilean was on his way to usurping Sampras as the No 1 at the Lipton Championships in Florida in March. The question this time was whether he would be able to win a game at all.
Relief came at the start of the second set, but only after Henman had double-faulted for 30-30. Consecutive service winners pulled him out of trouble and put a game on his side of the scoreboard. In his second service game of the set, however, Henman let Sampras attack him again, and found himself a set and a break down after only 33 minutes. It was from this point that Henman began to show signs of his true talent. Unfortunately it was too late. Sampras closed the match by breaking Henman again in the ninth game, the Briton handicapping himself with his fourth double-fault on the first point. Sampras finished with a masterstroke, an angled backhand half-volley worthy of any arena.
In today's semi-finals Sampras plays his fellow-American Todd Martin, who defeated the Frenchman Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-3, and Rusedski plays the world No 7 Karol Kucera, of Slovakia, who beat Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 6-3, 6-2.Reuse content