Tennis: Henman on right road for Hanover

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The Independent Online
TIM HENMAN took another step on the road to Hanover with a 7-5, 6-1 win against Mark Woodforde in the second round of the Eurocard Open last night. The British No l's prospects of a securing place in the eight- man ATP Tour Championship were heightened on a day when one of his rivals, Karol Kucera, was defeated by Todd Martin, 6-2, 6-4.

It was close to midnight when Henman completed an efficient performance against the 33-year-old Australian left-hander. Never threatened, Henman was unable to convert his first five break points in the first set. He took the sixth opportunity - a set point - with a confident forehand service return.

When Henman broke Woodforde from 40-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the second set, finishing with two superb backhands, the outcome was not in doubt.

Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, seeded No 13, is due on court this afternoon against another Australian, Jason Stoltenberg, who defeated Germany's David Prinosil, 7-6, 6-1. If Rusedski is successful, he will meet either Pat Rafter, the world No 3, or Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson

Along with the big issue in Germany - will Chancellor Schroeder be an improvement on Helmut Kohl? - are lighter topics, such as how long it will take Boris Becker to cut an administrative figure like Franz Beckenbauer.

The 30-year-old former Wimbledon champion's days in semi-retirement as a player are punctuated with business rumours. He was supposedly on the verge of fronting a move by Germany's Leo Kirch media group to take over the ATP Tour, but there was no deal. Now Becker may play an influential role in the appointment of a new German Tennis Federation president, without actually relinquishing his work with the Davis Cup team and taking the job himself.

Having formed a company, Boris Becker Marketing, the man who revolutionised German tennis after winning the Wimbledon title at the age of 17 evidently has entrepreneurial ambition. How well he has learned from his astute former managers, Ion Tiriac and the late Axel Mayer-Wolden, remains to be seen.

"A lot of people say many, many things," Becker said yesterday. "Not everything is true. I am not going to put more fire into it."

For now, Becker's involvement in big-time tennis is as an occasional player appended to tournament cast lists with a wild card. Yesterday was one of his more successful excursions. He won his first match for three months to advance to the second round.

Becker's last visit to Stuttgart, for the Mercedes Cup clay court event in July, ended in the quarter-finals with a sound beating by the Chilean Marcelo Rios, 6-2, 6-0. During the second set, Becker called to his opponent, "We are playing in my country, so why don't you let me win a point?" Rios replied, "You have to earn it."

Since then, Becker has spent most of his time recovering from a damaged ankle muscle. He made a brief appearance in Basle three weeks ago, losing to Sweden's Thomas Johansson in the first round, 6-3, 6-2.

Two years ago, Becker was involved in memorable five-set finals against Pete Sampras, winning in the Eurocard Open here and losing in the ATP Championship in Hanover. Yesterday, Becker was pleased simply to be in shape to trade shots with Sjeng Schalken, a Dutchman eight years his junior, and surprised to be ranked only one place below his opponent, at No 67.

The match was only memorable for the fact that Becker needed seven match points in the concluding game to win, 6-2, 7-5. Schalken, not for the first time in the match, played some of his best tennis when serving at 0-40. Becker now plays Carlos Moya, the Spanish No 4 seed.

Nicolas Kiefer, Becker's compatriot, emerged for a second-round match today against Sampras, the world No 1, but only after saving five match points. Kiefer trailed Zimbabwe's Byron Black 1-4 in the first set and 1-5 in the second set before winning, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6.

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