Tennis: Henman sticks to his guns and gains revenge

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The Independent Online
TIM HENMAN is able to continue to renew acquaintances with past Wimbledon opponents today, moving from Richard Krajicek, his victim last year, to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, whom he overcame in 1996.

However, the lunchtime appointment with Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals of the Guardian Direct Cup came perilously close to being cancelled last night when Henman ran into Rainer Schuttler, a persistent young German who is proving to be a nuisance to the 23-year-old from Oxford.

Schuttler, it may be remembered, was the second name on the list of four first-round Henman conquerors this year, and his bold performance last night made it plain that his three-set victory in Split earlier in the month was no accident.

Ranked 97 places below Henman at No 118 in the world, and having fought his way through the qualifying tournament, Schuttler brought his solid serving and speedy, hard-hitting style to the fast blue carpet courts in the temporary arena in Battersea Park. Temporary, it might be added, both in structure and in terms of the duration of the visits by some of the leading players, including Goran Ivanisevic, Petr Korda and Sergi Bruguera.

Henman, who won 4-6, 6-3. 6-4, looked reasonably secure as long as his first serves were hitting the target. Any wavering, and Schuttler was in, cracking his returns and whipping about the court, belting groundstrokes and more than the occasional volley.

Although Henman recovered one break midway through the opening set, he lost his serve a second time for 4-5 and was unable to convert either of two break points when Schuttler served for the set after 39 minutes.

As in their encounter in Split, Henman levelled the match with comparative comfort, displaying greater consistency in his serving and helped, on this occasion, when Schuttler double-faulted on the third break point in the fourth game and again on the second set point.

The final set was a tense affair, for the players and spectators alike. There was scarcely a breath of a chance on either side of the net until the ninth game, when another double-fault by the German presented Henman with a break point. Schuttler then netted a backhand and went into the changeover wondering if he would be able to prevent Henman from serving out the match.

A huge roar came from the crowd as the players prepared to resume, and Henman did not disappoint, conceding only one more point before clinching victory. "I'd like to say I didn't underestimate Schuttler last time," Henman said, "but I didn't know him, and I came unstuck. It nearly happened again tonight, but I stuck to the task."

Andrew Richardson grew in stature yesterday, which is rather frightening considering he was 6ft 7in to begin with. The 23-year-old left-hander from Peterborough was near to advancing to his first ATP Tour quarter- final until he misjudged a forehand drive and was finally bamboozled by a net cord.

Although not as close to defeating Marc-Kevin Goellner as Greg Rusedski, who held two match points against the German before losing the night before, Richardson's performance was one of the the highlights of the week from a British standpoint, second only to Henman's win against Krajicek.

Ranked No 145 in the world, Richardson has been good value for the wild card which gained him entry. While fortunate to catch Marc Rosset on an off day in the first round (the Swiss retired ill when trailing 6-3, 2- 1), Richardson impressed with the quality of his serving and shot-making yesterday.

Having lost, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, he will now return to the Satellite and Challenger circuit to prepare for a call to join Rusedski and Henman for Britain's Davis Cup tie against Ukraine in Newcastle on 3 to 5 April.

Korda, the top seed, lost a chance to challenge Pete Sampras' position as the world No 1 after losing to Cedric Pioline, last year's Wimbledon finalist, 6-3, 6-3.

Pat Rafter is still with us. The Australian No 2 seed, will play South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, having beaten Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, 6- 3, 7-6.

ORDER OF PLAY (for today's quarter-finals): 10.30am: M-K Goellner (Ger) v J Siemerink (Neth). Not before 12.30pm: T Henman (GB) v Y Kafelnikov (Rus). Not before 2.30pm: C Pioline (Fr) v K Kucera (Slovak). Not before 7pm: W Ferreira (SA) v P Rafter (Aus).