Tennis: Semi-final beckons British pair

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski will have Pete Sampras in their sights when Wimbledon starts next week, both would be well advised to view the five-times champion and world No 1 through the wrong end of the binoculars.

Rusedski's draw may lead him to Sampras in the quarter-finals, while Henman, like last year, would have to reach the semi-finals for a possible rematch with the Californian.

Ideally, from a home standpoint, Sampras, who opens against the Australian Scott Draper, will have departed the scene before then, leaving Henman, the No 6 seed, and Rusedski, seeded No 9, to duel for the privilege of becoming Britain's first men's singles finalist since 1938, when Bunny Austin was defeated by Don Budge.

While it is all very well for journalists to indulge in fantasy tennis during the build-up to the sport's biggest fortnight, Henman's mentor, David Felgate, and Rusedski's coach, Sven Groeneveld, will endeavour to ensure that their players look no farther than the opening round.

Not that Rusedski should need any warning on that account, given that he is due to play Jason Stoltenberg, who advanced to the semi-finals in 1996. At that point the Australian lost to the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, who went on to win the title.

Stoltenberg, 29, learned to play on an antbed court, as did Pat Rafter, the No 2 seed, and is among many Aussies who have been able to adapt groundstroke skills they learned in this rudimentary fashion to suit a variety of surfaces.

Rusedski's five previous matches against Stoltenberg, dating back to 1995, suggest that the British No 2 should overcome the first hurdle as long as he avoids complacency. Rusedski's only defeat was on a slow clay court in Bournemouth in 1996. "It's a hard first round match because he's an excellent grass court player but the last time I did well at Wimbledon I had a tough draw with Mark Philippoussis," said Rusedski.

Henman opens against Arnaud Di Pasquale, a 20-year-old Frenchman who was born in Casablanca. He would present a far greater threat to the British No 1 were the contest being played on the slow clay of Paris, even allowing for Henman's improved all-round game. Henman won their only previous match, 6-3, 6-3, on a carpet court at the Paris Indoor event last November, and should be too good for Di Pasquale on the lawns.

Sargis Sargsian, the Armenian who eliminated Rusedski at Queen's Club last week before losing to Henman in the semi-finals, may be Henman's second-round opponent. South Africa's Wayne Ferreira or Carlos Moya, the Spanish No 10 seed, may be waiting for Henman in fourth round, with Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, or the Slovak Karol Kucera, possible opponents in the quarters.

Rusedski may have to win another battle of the world's biggest servers with Australia's Mark Philippoussis in the fourth round. But there we go, getting ahead of ourselves again.

Chris Wilkinson, from Southampton, who has advanced to the third round on four occasions, has drawn an intriguing opening match against Gustavo Kuerten, the Brazilian former French Open champion.

The honour of facing Boris Becker in the first match of the Wimbledon farewell of "Boom-Boom" falls to a British wild card entry, ranked No 289 - Miles Maclagan, from Scotland via Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"It's a tough draw, but it will be a unique experience for me," Maclagan said. "He's the biggest name outside the seeds, and it's a part of history meeting Boris Becker at Wimbledon. He's one of the greats, and I would love to be the man who ends his career at Wimbledon."

Another of the British wild cards, Barry Cowan, ranked No 275, meets Jim Courier, America's Davis Cup hero in Birmingham at Easter, who was a Wimbledon finalist in 1993.

In the women's singles, Martina Hingis, the world No 1, will start against a qualifier and is projected to play Mary Pierce in the fourth round, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the quarters, and Jana Novotna, the defending champion, or Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals.

Steffi Graf, the seven-times champion, meets Ludmila Cervanova, of Slovakia, ranked No 100, in the first round, and may play the South African Amanda Coetzer in the fourth round, Venus Williams in the quarter-finals, and Monica Seles in the semi-finals.

Williams, the No 6 seed, who plays Miriam Oremans, an experienced Dutch competitor, in the first round, is due to meet her sister, Serena, in the fourth round, although in the first round the younger Williams has drawn Barbara Schwartz, the powerful Austrian who eliminated Venus at the French Open.

Anna Kournikova, who missed Wimbledon after injuring a thumb last year, has drawn the No 15 seed, Dominique Van Roost, of Belgium, in the first round, which also features a potential blockbuster between Germany's Anke Huber and the former prodigy Jennifer Capriati, a semi-finalist in 1991, aged 15, when she defeated Martina Navratilova in the quarter-finals.

Britain's Sam Smith, who defeated Conchita Martinez, the 1994 champion, to reach the fourth round last year, has not won a match on the WTA Tour for sixth months. She may make a fresh start against Ines Gorrochategui, of Argentina.

Wimbledon draws, page 27