Tennis: Henman's high follows Rusedski fall

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The Independent Online
IT was evidently going to be one of those curious days of lawn tennis the moment Pete Sampras, the four-times Wimbledon champion, succumbed in straight sets to Mark Woodforde, a 32-year-old Australian he had defeated in their 10 previous matches for the loss of only three sets.

What followed at the Stella Artois Championships proved to be jolting for the British game and left the tournament with the following semi-final line-up today: Mark Woodforde, seeded No 15, will play his unseeded compatriot Scott Draper, and the unseeded Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, will take on Laurence Tielemann, a qualifier who is ranked No 253 in the world.

First, Greg Rusedski, a genuine prospect for Wimbledon, which gets under way nine days hence, was taken to hospital after damaging his left ankle in a fall while playing Tieleman, a Belgian-born, London-based Italian.

Then, in the gloaming, Tieleman eliminated Tim Henman, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, the British No 2 having been unable to convert either of two match points during the second set. One of them came at 5-4, the other at 7-6 in the tie-break, which Tieleman won, 9-7. "It was a good opportunity missed," Henman said. "He dragged me down to his level."

Earlier, the scene had provided a mixture of emotions. While Rusedski was being assisted from Court No 1 after retiring in the opening set, Henman was on his way to defeating Goran Ivanisevic on the adjacent Centre Court, 6-1, 6-7, 6-4.

With the sun finally shining on a tournament drenched by rain on the opening four days, two rounds were scheduled in order to catch up, and spectators had been hoping to see Rusedksi and Henman duel in the quarter- finals. Instead, their enthusiasm was tempered by Rusedski's misfortune and Henman's profligacy.

Henman's win against Ivanisevic, a Wimbledon runner-up to Sampras and Andre Agassi, was as pleasantly surprising as his loss to Tieleman was desperately disappointing. Although the 23-year-old from Oxford had beaten the big-serving Croat left-hander in their two previous matches, this was their first meeting on grass.

Ivanisevic, depending on his mood, is capable of beating anybody, particularly himself. Yesterday he sported a sumo-style hair-do, complete with a top- knot, but neglected to throw salt on the court to ward off the evil spirits that take control of his racket from time to time.

Henman, by contrast, was unflappable, saving three break points in the opening game and frustrating his opponent with superior play for the rest of the set. Crucially, Henman did not lose his nerve after Ivanisevic levelled the match by winning the second set tie-break, 7-5.

The Briton completed the victory by hitting a service which gave Ivanisevic scope to do little other than net a backhand volley on match point after an hour and 58 minutes. Three more sets over an hour and 53 minutes proved too much for one day.

Sampras's defeat means that the Chilean Marcelo Rios has an opportunity to supplant the American as the world No 1 again on the opening day of Wimbledon. That will not trouble Sampras is he is able to restore his confidence by then.

"Pete's has said at odd times during the year that his motivation isn't quite what he would like it to be," Woodforde said after winning the third round match, 6-3, 6-2, after only 59 minutes. "Everybody is aware that, motivationwise, he isn't there, that there is a slight difference in him. You just look at his results. Every match he plays is as tight as nails.

"Perhaps his problem is more mental than physical."

Steffi Graf will meet Nathalie Tauziat in the semi-finals of the DFS Classic at Edgbaston today, after beating Magui Serna of Spain, 6-4, 6- 4.