Tennis: Henman looks to Rusedski on road to Hanover

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TIM HENMAN will be a spectre at the courtside today when Greg Rusedski plays Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semi-finals of the Paris Open today. Rusedski must win to stay on the road to Hanover. If he loses, Henman will be guaranteed a place in the eight-man ATP Tour Championship.

The way things stand - or the way players are falling down - Henman is virtually certain to be in Hanover on 24 November. "There is obviously somebody up there looking after me," the British No 1 said. "This relieves the pressure a little, but the competitive side of me still wants to go to Stockhom [next week] and get enough points to go ahead of [Richard] Krajicek. It's not quite the way I wanted to qualify, but at the end of the day, I will take it. However, I'm not saying I'm there until I actually walk out on the court in Hanover."

Kafelnikov may not be on the best of terms with Henman, having criticised his friend for neglecting to apologise for the net-cords that went his way in their third- round match on Thursday, but the Russian's mind is concentrated on his own chances of qualifying for Hanover.

The form guide suggests a fascinating contest, Rusedski and Kafelnikov each having won two of their four previous matches. Rusedski won the last, in a third-set tie-break in Vienna last month. Kafelnikov won in three sets in the quarter-finals of last year's Paris Open, having lost to the Briton in the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich. Kafelnikov won their first match, in Adelaide in 1996.

Both have played impressively this week - allowing for Kafelnikov's blip after threatening to blow Henman off the court in straight sets - and both are determined to end a frustrating year with a flourish.

The Montreal-born Rusedski, who has enjoyed addressing the spectators in French after his victories, revelled in yesterday's 6-3, 6-2 win against Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson. Towards the end of the match he hit six consecutive aces, the crowd's cheers turning to ironic jeers when he double-faulted on the next point. Rusedski hit a total of 17 aces, and dropped only 13 points off his serve in winning the quarter-final in only 53 minutes.

Rusedski arrived for his interview holding his back and affecting a limp, his smile showing that he had not joined the invalids littering the road to Hanover. It is hardly surprising the doctors at the Paris Open have won the ATP Tour Medical Services Award considering the overtime they have put in.

The thin joke yesterday was that Pete Sampras, the world No 1, was taken to hospital after damaging his back during his narrow victory against the French wild card, Jerome Golmard, on Thursday night, only to find the last beds taken by Richard Krajicek and Pat Rafter.

Rafter, the Australian United States Open champion, ranked No 3, created a vacancy in Hanover yesterday by announcing that he was returning to his base in Bermuda for treatment to a knee injury in order to be fit for the Australian Open in January. A consultation with Dr Bernard Montalvan, one of the award-winning medical staff, confirmed Rafter's opinion that it would be unwise to risk the injury further, even though it means abandoning his ambition to supplant Sampras as the year-end No 1.

Rafter, defeated by Todd Martin in a splendid third-round match on Thursday night, had already outlined his fears of pushing the injured left knee too hard. "I've never had a good Australian Open and a good lead-up to the Australian Open," he said, "and I would really like to achieve something back home."

Krajicek will have a knee operation next Monday after retiring from his second-round match against Marc Rosset after leading 5-2 in the final set.

Kafelnikov advanced to meet Rusedski with a 6-3, 6-2 win against Marcelo Rios, the Chilean world No 2, who was jeered during the second set for his seemingly languid attitude. "I don't think I played badly today. I thought I played really good," Rios said. "I had my chances, and didn't take them."