Tennis: Henman's fine defeat

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BRITAIN'S TIM HENMAN and Greg Rusedski showed their increasing aptitude on clay before next week's French Open despite both being defeated in Dusseldorf yesterday.

The clay-court specialists, Carlos Moya and Alex Corretja, simply had too much know-how on the surface, beating Henman and Rusedski respectively to hand Spain a 2-0 winning lead over Britain in the World Team Cup. Yet Henman and Rusedski proved they can adapt their attacking game to the slow surface by giving two of the world's top baseliners a hard time.

Moya, the reigning French Open champion, took over two hours to beat Henman 7-5, 3-6 7-6, while Corretja, who lost to Moya in last year's French Open final, shrugged off a brave challenge from Rusedski before winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

After exchanging the first two sets, Moya moved 5-2 ahead in the final set and served for the match at 5-3. But Henman refused to yield and broke him, going on to force a tie-break. A superb backhand by Henman saved a match point, but Moya fired a service winner on his second match point.

"It was a match that could have gone either way," said Henman, the world No 7. "He came up with good points at the right time but I think it was a good match from both of us."

Henman has never shone on the Paris clay but he warned it could be different this time. "My form on clay is as good as it's ever been," he said. "I've been home in the evening every time at the French but this time it could be different."

Rusedski also lost honourably after showing that his heavy artillery could be efficient on clay when he took the second set with some marvellous volleys. In the final set, Rusedski netted a backhand to go 5-3 down and give Corretja the chance to smash his way to victory on his first match point.

"I'm feeling more and more comfortable on clay," said Rusedski, who helped Britain to a 2-1 victory over the holders, Germany, by beating Nicolas Kiefer in straight sets in the first round-robin match here on Sunday. "I don't want the guys to think: `I'm playing Rusedski on clay, what a great draw.' I want them to go out there knowing that I'll be difficult to beat."

Results, French Open seedings, Digest, page 25