Tennis: Henman rues his loss to Raoux

TENNIS

TIM HENMAN failed to justify his rise to fifth spot in the world rankings when crashing out in the first round of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles. Seeded third for the hard court event, Henman was beaten 6-3, 7-6 by Frenchman Guillaume Raoux.

"It's definitely not what I wanted to happen," said Henman, playing in his first match since losing to Pete Sampras in the semi-finals at Wimbledon. "But it's not a reason to panic. He's always a pretty dangerous player. Early on I let him dictate too much. I didn't keep the pressure on him."

Raoux broke Henman to lead 4-2 in the first set, then broke him to love to open the second set. By the time Henman was beginning to look more confident, breaking back for 3-3 in the second, it was too late.

"I don't think I was playing great, I wasn't playing badly," Henman went on. "But to give a guy the sort of start I did today was just too much."

Raoux shrugged off the after-effects of a debilitating bout of diarrhoea to claim his first ever win over Henman. The Frenchman, who upset Goran Ivanisevic en route to the semi-finals here last year and knocked out Pat Rafter and Mark Philippoussis on his way to the semis the year before, said he knew the early break in the second wouldn't be enough.

"I knew I would have to break him twice to win the second set because he put more and more pressure on my serve," Raoux said. "I didn't feel so confident after one break."

Both players came into the event after taking some time off. Raoux took a two-month break to enjoy some time with his new daughter, who was born in May, while Henman decided to get some rest after Wimbledon. Raoux, ranked 73rd in the world, had never taken a set off Henman in four previous meetings.

The French Open champion Andre Agassi and reigning six-time Wimbledon winner Pete Sampras took the first steps on Tuesday to a much-anticipated rematch of their recent Wimbledon final.

Top seed and defending champion Agassi beat fellow-American Jan-Michael Gambill 6-2, 6-2 after second-seeded Sampras defeated local wild card entry Philip King 6-1 6-2 to complete first-round action.

Meanwhile, the Russian Anna Kournikova beat Mirjana Lucic of Croatia 6-4, 6-2 and the American Jennifer Capriati edged Spaniard Conchita Martinez 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, at the Bank of the West Classic on Tuesday night.

Playing on adjacent courts at Stanford University's sold-out stadium, the competitors entertained the crowd with end-to-end sprints, aggressive baseline rallies and lethal returns of serves in their first-round matches.

Kournikova said: "She wasn't ready for my quick start. I hardly had any unforced errors and I showed her I'm feeling fine. I've been practicing really hard the past few weeks and I feel great. I did what I wanted to do."

Capriati and Martinez fought for nearly three hours. Martinez - the 1994 Wimbledon champion who has slipped to 18th in the rankings - attempted to frustrate her opponent with a variety of spins and loopy balls, but the 23-year-old Capriati stayed tough, breaking Martinez in the contest's final game with a resounding overhead that sent the crowd wild.

Capriati was thrilled. "It's a huge victory for me," she said. "Any victory over a top-20 player is great. It's a big boost for my confidence and I'm very motivated by it."

Results, Digest, page 27

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