Tennis: Henman to lose top-20 distinction

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BRITAIN'S Greg Rusedski had a much harder fight than expected before beating Hicham Arazi 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round of the European Community Championship in Antwerp yesterday while Tim Henman, the British No 2, suffered his fourth consecutive first-round defeat when he was beaten 7-5, 6-2 by Magnus Norman of Sweden.

Rusedski, the British No 1, dropped a place to ninth in the world rankings on Monday because he lost the points gained from reaching the final of the San Jose tournament in the United States 12 months ago. Yesterday he was much more powerful than Arazi, but the Moroccan left-hander more than matched Rusedski in the baseline rallies. Though Rusedski served 18 aces to three by Arazi, there was often little to choose between the two.

Because Henman reached the final of this event last year, he will lose more than 200 world ranking points. It will send him out of the top 20 in the world rankings for the first time since 6 October when the next list is announced by ATP on Monday.

However, Henman will have one consolation. Because he missed more than two months of the season from the end of March last year following an elbow operation, he has no more ranking points to defend until the Nottingham tournament in June. "I'll still be a top-25 player," he said. "Of course it's disappointing, but I know I'm good enough to work hard on the practice court and it will sooner or later pay off on the match court."

l Steffi Graf enjoyed a two-set win yesterday in her first singles match in over eight months, at the Hannover Grand Prix. Displaying no signs of the knee injury that threatened to end her career, she beat her fellow German, Andrea Glass, 6-4, 6-2.