TENNIS: Woodruff poses threat to Henman

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The Independent Online
ON STRICT form lines, Tim Henman faces a tough task in the quarter- finals of the Champions Cup here. Chris Woodruff, the British player's opponent in the last eight, may be ranked only 550 in the world, but yesterday the American overcame Felix Mantilla, who had beaten Pete Sampras less than 24 hours earlier.

Sampras committed an unthinkable 54 unforced errors on Wednesday and is in danger of losing his world No 1 ranking this week. On a cool and windswept night, the top seed struggled with both the mental and physical aspects of his game before falling to Mantilla 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.

"I was lacking a little confidence. I didn't feel right all night," admitted Sampras, who has played only six matches this year. "It was cold and the ball was heavy. I struggled and just didn't play well. I couldn't get my game going."

Sampras, who was unable to unleash any kind of effective chip-and-charge attack in the two-hour match, added: "It's back to the drawing board. I'm going to take this loss very hard. It's a wake-up call."

The departure of Sampras left another Spaniard, Carlos Moya, in position to seize the top ranking after the fourth seed repelled a strong challenge from Jim Courier, a former No 1, to score a 7-6, 6-4 victory.

At the start of the tournament, the second-ranked Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the No 3 Alex Corretja, Moya and the fifth-ranked Patrick Rafter all had a chance to unseat the suddenly vulnerable Sampras this week.

Kafelnikov and Rafter lost their opening matches on Tuesday. Corretja, up a set and a break on Wednesday, blew a 4-1 lead in the second set against Australian Mark Philippoussis and eventually fell 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

The three-times Wimbledon runner-up, Goran Ivanisevic, the 14th seed, also was bitten by the upset bug. He was defeated by the 18-year-old Belgian, Xavier Malisse, 7-6, 6-3.

Playing in only his second event this year, the sixth seed and defending champion, Marcelo Rios, who has been nursing a back injury, was impressive in taking apart France's Cedric Pioline 7-6, 6-1. The Chilean won this event and the Lipton Championship back-to back last year and briefly became No 1 in the world.

"I've been feeling pretty good after four months when I really haven't played," Rios said. "Maybe my back is bothering me a little when I serve, so I don't have the power. But there's no more pain."

Other players through to the quarter-finals yesterday were Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil and the eighth-seeded Dutchman Richard Krajicek. Kuerten beat Sjeng Schalken, of the Netherlands, 6-2, 6-3, while Krajicek sank his compatriot Jan Siemerink 6-4, 6-4.

In the Evert Cup, the women's tournament being played alongside the men's event here, Steffi Graf continued her recovery last night by overcoming Chanda Rubin to reach the final.

The 26th-ranked Rubin had claimed the biggest scalp on offer, by picking off the top seed and defending champion, Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6, on Wednesday night.

Graf had reached the semi-finals by crushing Jana Novotna, 6-2, 6-0, for the 29th win in her 33 career meetings with the Czech serve and volleyer. Leading 4-2 in the first set, Graf raced through eight consecutive games to end the match in a swift 52 minutes.