Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Rusedski's fall fires Henman

Wimbledon 99: British No 1 survives marathon to triumph over Courier but Philippoussis denies home double
DURING THE course of one of the most dramatic triumphs involving a Briton witnessed on the Centre Court at Wimbledon this side of World War II, Tim Henman glanced at the scoreboard and realised that the end was nigh for Greg Rusedski, who, over on Court No 1, was trailing by two sets to one and 1-5.

"I didn't want us both going out on the same day," Henman said. "That would have been really disappointing."

Nothing was disappointing about Henman's performance yesterday, when he saved three match points before overcoming the doughty American Jim Courier. Even Henman's double-faults and capricious forehand contributed to the heart-stopping intensity of his fourth-round victory, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7, 9-7.

The match spanned three days because of rain, Tuesday's play having been washed out altogether.

Courier may have mused that last Friday he participated in Wimbledon's second longest singles, when he defeated the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, 13-11 in the fifth set, after four hours and 25 minutes. The contest with Henman took five minutes longer, with the concluding hour and 44 minutes of the four and a half hours enthralling the spectators yesterday.

Courier is not the type to take consolation from finishing second in a two-man marathon, but he leaves Wimbledon with his reputation enhanced as one of the sport's great competitors, evidence of which was abundant during the Davis Cup tie in Birmingham at Easter, when he defeated Henman and Rusedski in turn over five sets.

Losing at Wimbledon, where Courier was the runner-up to Pete Sampras in 1993, is nobody's idea of a good time, but he made an exception yesterday. "That was fun," Courier said. "I enjoyed every minute out there. That's good entertainment value for the fans, and it's great stuff for us, I think."

Rusedski also put a brave face on the afternoon's events, although the ache in the pit of his stomach was probably harder to bear than the pain from a strained muscle in his right thigh. Such is the depth of Rusedski's ambition to win the Wimbledon title that the way his campaign ricocheted to oblivion against Mark Philippoussis was sorely disappointing.

We were supposed to imagine that Court No 1 was the OK Corral for the day. The shots were mighty, and the majority hit the target, but the Australian was the man with the smoking gun and a drink waiting through the bat-wing doors.

Rusedski, the No 9 seed, began with a swagger, firing with power and confidence, and capitalising on his opponent's double-faults to break serve twice in the opening set, which was completed after only 26 minutes.

The British No 2 created three break points in the second set. Philippoussis produced a potent second serve to erase the first, at 30-40 in the second game. At 15-40 in the sixth game, Philippoussis hit an 130mph ace, and then passed Rusedski with a forehand after chasing down a lob.

After that, Rusedski's game began to look ponderous and he seemed tentative when the second set came down to a tie-break. Philippoussis passed him with a drive for 3-2 after Rusedski had paused between first and second serves to let a pigeon fly past, and the Australian won the shoot-out, 7-4.

By this time, Philippoussis had taken his number of aces to 13, and 11 of them flashed past Rusedski during the second set. As he became better, Rusedski looked worse, and after two hours and 19 minutes, when the targets were reeled in, they told the story: Philippoussis, 25 aces and 11 double faults; Rusedski, nine aces and 12 doubles faults.

"I had most of the play for the first two sets," Rusedski said, "but he came up when it counted in that second set tie-breaker. And then he just kept on playing better, and he was just too good today. I don't think it was to do with my technique today, I think it was more physical."

Asked about the thigh injury, Rusedski said: "It was just a problem, I couldn't deal with it, and he played well. So I'm not making any excuses."

Philippoussis said he had been too relaxed at the start. "I got frustrated with myself, and upset, which fired me up a little bit. Saving the break points pumped me up, and I played better and better."

The No 7 seed will have to continue that trend if he is to make an impression on Pete Sampras, the five-times champion, in the quarter-finals today. When they met at the same stage last year, Sampras won in straight sets. "To be quite honest, last year I just didn't have the self-belief that I could beat him," Philippoussis said. "But I've got a lot of self-belief at the moment. I realise there is no reason why I can't go all the way."

Henman, the No 6 seed, plays the unseeded Frenchman Cedric Pioline, who was defeated by Sampras in the 1997 final. They have played each other twice before, each winning once, but their last meeting was in 1996, and this will be their first duel on grass, and over the best of five sets.

"I think Pioline is going to give me a few more targets to aim at," Henman said, "but he has a good record here, and he's obviously playing very well. He's on a roll after winning Nottingham."

Whether Pioline expected the roll to gather such momentum is open to question. He told French colleagues that he had booked a vacation for the second week in Wimbledon, and had also considered playing exhibition matches in Switzerland.