Tennis: Rusedski replaces injured Agassi

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WHEN LEWIS CARROLL wrote Alice In Wonderland, he forgot to include a round-robin tennis tournament. As we have seen at the ATP Tour Championship, the possibilities are endless.

Greg Rusedski, for example, stands to win a minimum $105,000 and a maximum $1.38m this week as a substitute for Andre Agassi. The bonus for Britain will be a match between Rusedski and Tim Henman tomorrow, and the chance of the British pair contesting Sunday's final.

Agassi retired injured during his match against the Spaniard Alex Corretja yesterday, but the rules gave the American the option of returning and playing his two remaining White Group matches against Marcelo Rios today and Henman tomorrow.

Rusedski was on pins waiting for Agassi to make a decision this morning. However, at 9.30 last night Agassi decided to call it a day.

Earlier, before Rios received the results of an MRI scan on his back and decided he could play, the British No 2 was preparing to step in for the Chilean.

That would have precluded a match between Henman and Rusedski tomorrow - Henman having already beaten Rios in his opening match on Tuesday night - while leaving open the possibility of an all-British final.

Henman is scheduled to play Corretja in his second round-robin match this afternoon, and Pete Sampras is already through to the semi-finals in his quest to finish the season as the world No 1 for a record sixth consecutive year.

Corretja won his only previous match against Henman 6-3, 7-5 in the second round of the Paris Open last year. "The funny thing is that that was the first match I ever won indoors," the Spaniard recalled.

Sampras defeated Carlos Moya, of Spain, 6-3, 6-3 yesterday, having opened his defence of the title with a straight-sets win against Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia.

Henman collected $110,000 a year ago after defeating Kafelnikov in a meaningless round-robin match on a day trip as a second substitute for the injured Sergi Brugera (Thomas Muster had already deputised for the injured Rusedski). Wary of further mishaps this time the organisers have alerted Albert Costa, of Spain, to the possibility of being called as a second substitute today. Costa, the next highest ranked player available (No 14), has never won a match on an indoor court in his career.

Agassi, who won the ATP Tour title in 1990, was paying his first visit to Hanover since 1996, when he lost to Sampras in the first round-robin match 6-2, 6-1 and then pulled out through injury. The Las Vegan, who sprained his back practising with Corretja on Monday, matched shots with the Spaniard until midway through the second set yesterday and decided to call a halt with Corretja leading 5-7, 6-3, 2-1 with a break of serve.

"I hit a swinging volley at 3-3 in the first set, and when I twisted it was just like somebody stuck a knife in me," Agassi said. "Then I had a hard time leaning forward in my traditional return of serve stance. As the match progressed, more things were becoming difficult. Pretty soon, it got quite pointless."

Agassi added: "The thing about a back spasm is that it could relax at any time. I've got to make the decision based on me entirely... The next concern is respect for the tournament - not to go out there and stink it up."

Precisely a year ago Agassi, ranked No 141 in the world, was defeated in the final of a Challenger event in Las Vegas by Germany's Christian Vink. It has been a long, hard road to Hanover for the American, who has raised himself to No 4.

ATP TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP (Hanover): A Corretja (Sp) bt A Agassi (US) 5-7 6-3 2-1 ret; P Sampras (US) beat C Moya (Sp) 6-3 6-3; Y Kafelnikov (Rus) bt K Kucera (Slovak) 6-7 6-3 6-2.

TODAY (from 1pm GMT): Corretja v T Henman (GB); M Rios (Chile) v G Rusedski (GB); Sampras v K Kucera (Slovak).