Tennis: Henman saving his best for Moya

Tennis: Rusedski wins the battle of Britons in Hanover but their encounter lacks fire as the No 1 loses the plot

TIM HENMAN is due to play in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Championship against Carlos Moya, from Majorca, where the British No 1's game seemed to be on vacation yesterday. It is to be hoped that Henman's form returns refreshed today, otherwise a great British adventure and a quest for the pounds 1m first prize may end in disappointment.

That was certainly the case here yesterday, when Henman was apparently unable to motivate himself for his concluding round-robin match against Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, who won 6-1, 6-4. Rusedski was denied a semi-final meeting with Pete Sampras by Alex Corretja, who was barely troubled by Spanish compatriot Albert Costa in the final round-robin match last night. Costa, the second substitute, has never won a match indoors and he took his losing sequence to 17, Corretja winning 6-2, 6-4.

The consolation for Rusedski was 180 rankings points, which puts him back in the world top 10 and he was delighted with his performance. "I think I played at the level I reached when I beat Sampras in Paris," he said. "Everything was firing on all cylinders. I was mixing up my game really well. I don't think Tim served as well as he could have. I really took advantage of that with the four breaks of serve. I was really motivated to win."

"I'm the first to admit I played badly," Henman said, "and I'm disappointed. I think a lot of people wanted to see us having a tight and hard-fought match. It wasn't quite the case today. My goal was achieved for the round- robin. In some respects, there wasn't so much in the game. But still my pride of performance should take care of that. Some of the shots I missed were hard to explain. Having said that, Greg did play very well."

Rusedski prevailed after 64 minutes and, but for a late surge by Henman, the match would have beenshorter and more embarrassing. A capacity crowd of 14,000 in the Expo 2000 Tennis Dome were whistling and jeering when Henman suddenly picked up his game. This started with a running backhand service return down the line on the first point of the sixth game of the second set. As the crowd roared their approval, Henman ironically raised both arms in salute. It was the only point Henman won in the game as Rusedski cruised to lead 5-1. At that stage Rusedski had conceded only four points on his serve in the set, and only eight in the match.

The cheers for Henman continued when he held to love in the next game. He responded by turning a dreadfully one-sided affair into the semblance of a contest between two players with pretensions of spending the best part of their careers in the top 10.

When Rusedski first served for the match he suddenly found that his usually reliable deliveries had gone off track - enough, that is, for Henman to win the first two points. The third was a gift, a double fault which offered Henman three break points. Rusedski saved the first two with potent serving but fluked the third off the frame of his racket.

Henman created a fourth break point, only to lob marginally over the baseline. The crowd booed, then the linesman cried "out", partly through wishful thinking. Rusedski then reached his first match-point when Henman missed with a backhand. The crowd rejoiced when Henman hit a winning forehand half-volley down the line to prolong matters.

Henman had a fifth break-point, on the hour, and this time his service return was good enough to force Rusedski to hit a forehand over the baseline. Henman held to love in the next game. Rusedski had had warning enough, however, and managed to serve out to love on his second match-point.

Even with pride at stake Henman was unable to to make any impression - except bad ones - in the opening set. He served so poorly that four double faults contributed to his falling 4-1 behind after only 14 minutes. Rusedski, who had been around since Sunday waiting for a game as the event's first substitute, must have been as surprised as everyone at the ease with which he was able to dominate.

The opening set zipped by in 25 minutes. Two boys holding a Union Jack flag did, however, show their appreciation and by the end of the match, Rusedski's progress had reaped greater reward in terms of prize money and rankings.

Moya, the Spanish world No 5, qualified for the semi-finals by defeating the Russian, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, in his concluding round-robin match in the Red Group 7-5, 7-5.

Moya finished as runner-up in the group to Sampras and Henman has won three of his four matches against Moya, although they are level, 1-1, on indoor carpet courts.

Sampras was close to tears on Thursday when Mark Miles, the ATP Tour's chief executive, gave a eulogy over a No 6-shaped cake as recognition for being the world No 1 for the sixth successive year. The emotional mood was lightened when a bottle of champagne was poured over Sampras's head, Formula One-style. Henman was asked to put Sampras's accomplishment into perspective. "It's a phenomenal achievement," he said.

ATP CHAMPIONSHIP (Hanover): Red Group: C Moya (Sp) bt Y Kafelnikov (Rus) 7-5 7-5; White Group: G Rusedski (GB) bt T Henman (GB) 6-2 6-4; A Corretja (Sp) bt A Costa (Sp) 6-2 6-4.

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