Tennis: Path to last four opens up for Henman

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The Independent Online
It might be tempting fate to mention this, but by defeating Thomas Muster, the world No 5, Tim Henman has opened a seedless path to the quarter-finals of the United States Open.

Should the 22-year-old from Oxford continue to produce the impressive form he displayed against Muster in the first round on Wednesday, he could find himself on the court with his Russian rival, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the No 3 seed. An alternative possibility is that Henman will duel for the first time with Andre Agassi, unseeded and ranked No 63, for a place in the last four.

The only player on Henman's mind at the moment, however, is Wayne Ferreira, the talented South African who today stands between the Briton and an appearance in the third round.

Henman has played Ferreira twice previously, last year, and honours are even. The South African won in two sets on a concrete court at the Canadian Open, the Briton reversing the result on an indoor carpet in Ostrava.

Ferreira, while not necessarily a man for all seasons, his confidence tending to waver, has prospered on all surfaces. He is one of only nine active players to have won titles on concrete, clay, grass and indoor carpet. His initial triumph, it may be remembered, was in the 1992 Stella Artois grass court championships at Queen's Club.

Once ranked as high as No 6, Ferreira was down to No 55 on arriving in New York this week, his prospects hardly bolstered by memories of first- round defeats in the past two years. He proved to have the fitness and resolve to recover from two sets down in the opening round to defeat Alberto Berasategui, of Spain, 6-3 in the fifth set.

Henman, who lost to Stefan Edberg in the fourth round last year, has virtually safeguarded his ranking points with the bonus for defeating Muster, who is 16 spots higher.

"It is no shame to lose to someone like Tim Henman," Muster said after experiencing the full range of the Briton's attacking flair for the best part of four sets. "We will see how he continues. If he keeps playing and serving the way he did today, I think his chances are there against Wayne Ferreira."

Muster, who is approaching 30, was asked what he considered to be the difference between the way he is now and the way he was a few years ago. "Less hair, bigger bank account," the Austrian former world No 1 said.

Perhaps aware that his days as a pulverising competitor might be drawing to a close, Muster parodied himself by brandishing his racket and chasing Henman off the court after one point in the third set. "That was just a bit of fun," Muster said.

But would he have acted that way a year ago? "That was the only thing I was looking forward to from the beginning of the year, just to be like that at the US Open," he parried.

Henman saw the humour in the situation, although he admitted that he beat a retreat just in case Muster was about to attack him. "I told him in the locker-room I wasn't scared to admit that I was frightened, so I thought the best thing to do was keep running," he said.

Muster, whose obsessive work ethic enabled him to establish a position of respect in the sport, complimented Henman's fluent skills. "He has great potential," the Austrian said. "He has a very stylish game, especially on indoor surfaces or grass. I think he has a good coach [David Felgate] and I think they can develop together. If you look at the younger players, I think Tim is one who has the potential to be be in the top 10 for quite a while."

Another of the new generation expected to make a lasting impression is Mark Philippoussis, the No 14 seed. The big-serving Australian, who might pose a challenge for Pete Sampras in the semi-finals, advanced to the third round on Wednesday night. His French opponent, Jerome Golmard, retired in the third set, when already two sets down, because of a shoulder injury.

The 20-year-old Philippoussis, in common with the 16-year-old Martina Hingis, takes his mind off tennis with recreational pursuits. The other evening he was spotted on the corner of Third Avenue and East 51st Street, black cap turned with its peak to the back, casual gear, elbows and knees padded, holding a skateboard.

Anna Kournikova, the attractive 16-year-old who advanced to the semi- finals at Wimbledon this year, was unable to add to her conquests here. Although playing a spirited second set, the Russian was eliminated in the second round by the No 11 seed, Irina Spirlea, of Romania, 6-1 3-6 6-3.

Rain delayed yesterday's programme.

Results, Digest, page 23