Defeats put Henman and Rusedski in ranking spin

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The Independent Online

It is arguable whether any setting in tennis is as beautiful as the site of the Monte Carlo Masters tournament, but the view here for British tennis yesterday was looking decidedly bleak. Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski both went out in the first round to Argentinian clay-court specialists, leaving Andy Murray as the sole British contender.

It is a scenario that is likely to become all too familiar for the British No 1, who plays his first match here today against Jean-René Lisnard. If Henman and Rusedski continue their slide down the rankings they will soon no longer receive direct entries into the nine Masters series events which dominate the calendar after the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Henman, who is No 63 in the world and needs higher ranked players to withdraw if he is to play in the next Masters series tournaments in Rome and Hamburg, lost 6-1, 6-3 to Gaston Gaudio, the world No 8. Rusedski, ranked No 46, was beaten 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 by Juan Ignacio Chela, the world No 30, and has now lost all six matches he has played here.

In his three previous matches against Gaudio, Henman had never dropped a set, but he was up against it from the moment he netted a backhand to drop serve in the fourth game. Having failed to convert a break point in the next when he put a forehand in the net, Henman dropped his serve again as the 2004 French Open champion took the first set in 42 minutes.

The second set was an all too familiar mixture of the good and the bad from Henman, who recovered from one break down but was broken again to trail 5-2. Gaudio then led 40-0 on his serve, only for Henman to respond with five fine points in succession in a display of defiant aggression. The Briton saved another match point in the following game, but Gaudio closed out the match when Henman mis-hit a forehand.

Rusedski, who lost in straight sets to Chela in Miami last month, was broken in the sixth game, recovered to break back at 4-4 but then dropped his serve again to give Chela the first set. Two breaks apiece were traded in the second set before Rusedski won the tie-break 7-5, when Chela hit a forehand, but the Argentinian made short work of the final set, winning the last six games in a row.

The world No 1, Roger Federer, yesterday faced another of the new generation of talented teenagers in Novak Djokovic, the 18-year-old Serb who was largely responsible for Britain's Davis Cup defeat in Glasgow nine days ago. Although Federer won 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, the rustiness of his clay court game occasionally matched the colour of the court.

Djokovic, playing with a telling mixture of aggressive groundstrokes and subtle drop shots, forced Federer into a succession of mistakes in the second set. However, three forehand errors in Djokovic's first service game of the third set handed the initiative back to the Swiss, who took a 3-0 lead and served out to take the match.