Tennis: Henman still in the hunt for Hanover

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TIM HENMAN and Greg Rusedski advanced to the third round of the Paris Open in only 68 minutes yesterday, but are unlikely to be in synchronisation for the rest of the season.

Rusedski, who defeated Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, 6-3, 6-4, dismissed his prospects of qualifying for the eight-man ATP Tour Championship on 24 November. "Realistically, I don't think I have a shot to make Hanover," said Rusedski, who started the week in 13th place.

Henman, who dropped from eighth to ninth place last week, may face a critical match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov after defeating Arnaud Di Pasquale, the 19-year-old French world junior champion, 6-3, 6-3. Kafelnikov, the runner-up to Richard Krajicek in Stuttgart on Sunday, plays his second- round match against Sweden's Magnus Norman today.

"Everybody is expecting Kafelnikov to win that match," Henman said. "If I play him, both of us would be aware that there is a lot riding on the match."

The British No 1 is optimistic of qualifying for Hanover. "I'm the underdog, if you like," he said. "Krajicek and [Karol] Kucera are in front of me. But if I were to win only a couple more matches this week, then I would probably be back in again. If it doesn't happen this week, I'll still fancy my chances in Stockholm [next week]. The court there is quicker."

Henman, who made a day trip to Hanover from the National Championships in Telford last year to play against Kafelnikov as a substitute in the final round-robin match, may again benefit from injuries. Krajicek, currently in eighth place, will see how his week's results go before deciding whether to have a cartilage operation on his left knee. The Dutchman plays Marc Rosset in the second round today.

"I prefer to qualify outright," Henman said, "but if it was the case of injuries, I would definitely go there to take my chance. Sometimes that's the way things unfold. You have guys that get into a tournament as a lucky loser. It's not really the way you want to get in, but sometimes they go on and win the tournament."

Rusedski, who qualified for Hanover last year, said he had to rely on Krajicek, Henman and Kucera "to perform really poorly" this time, and could not see that happening. "I think it's going to be nearly impossible [for me], because they keep on playing good tennis. I'm going to try to do my best and finish as high as I can for the end of the year."

He added: "If I can get my ranking to 10 or 11, I might have a chance of being an alternate. I think all of them are going to play. Tim is healthy. Kucera looks healthy. There's a question with Krajicek having knee surgery, but he didn't look too bad on one leg last week."

Rusedski's win against Kiefer prompted a German colleague to suggest a headline, British No 2 beats German No 1. The 21-year-old Kiefer disappointed his supporters by failing to convert any of seven break points in the second set. Rusedski, who dropped only four points on his serve in the first set, double-faulted twice in the sixth game of the second. The frustrated Kiefer found that whenever an opportunity presented itself, Rusedski would whisk it away with a winning serve.

Di Pasquale, a wild card entry, ranked No 82, said he was unable to read Henman's serve. That was particularly true after he created two break points in the fourth game of the second set. "It's not the best I've played," Henman said, "but fortunately I was able to serve pretty well at the important stages."

Di Pasquale, who had to rebuild his serve as a result of a back injury, was born in Casablanca. His great-grandfather came from Sicily. The French are optimistic that he will fulfil his potential. "He obviously has a lot of confidence at the moment," Henman said. "I wanted to try to jump on him early and get off to a lead, and that's what I did. He's a talented guy. You can't just expect him to roll over because I'm more experienced. To win in straight sets fairly comfortably is a good way to start."

Goran Ivanisevic, who began the week placed No 12, with a mathematical chance of qualifying for Hanover, put away the abacus after losing to Todd Martin, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6.

n The former world No 1 Steffi Graf, unseeded in a tournament for the first time in almost 14 years, registered a comfortable win in the first round of the Leipzig women's event yesterday. After nearly two months out of action following surgery on her right wrist, Graf beat the Romanian Ruxandra Dragomir, 6-3, 6-3.

Graf, who has slipped to 22nd in the world rankings, will meet Ai Sugiyama in the next round. The Japanese beat Sandra Koesel, of Germany, 6-4, 6-3.