Ferrero falls to novice from Russia

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Juan Carlos Ferrero bid farewell to his French Open title here yesterday with the painful realisation that it was not a good idea to take on a determined young Russian, Igor Andreev, when his sore ribs rebelled with every twist and turn.

Having given himself only a 40-60 chance of starting the tournament, the stylish Spaniard did well to defeat Tommy Haas, of Germany, in four sets in the first round. Haas was another competitor making a comeback after injury and illness. The 20-year-old Andreev was in rude health after winning his first match at a Grand Slam championships in the opening round.

A year ago, when Ferrero was parading the trophy here, Andreev was trying to console himself after losing in the first round of an ATP Challenger tournament in Turin. Yesterday, the Russian was too strong for the ailing Ferrero, completing a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win with his second ace.

So, one day after Justine Henin-Hardenne, the world No 1, had left the grounds, the tournament also lost the men's defending champion. Ferrero was the 17th seed to fall in the singles events.

There was nearly a sensational Russian double. Maria Kirilenko, a 17-year-old playing only her fifth match in the main draw of a major championships, pushed Serena Williams for two hours before the American second seed prevailed, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Williams may have resembled the genie from a bottle in her fuchsia outfit but the Wimbledon champion lacked even a spark of magic and was booed off the court.

The Italians, meanwhile, were having a festaggiare on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Potito Starace, a qualifier from Naples ranked No 202, responded to the question of how to follow his compatriot Tathiana Garbin's victory against Henin-Hardenne by eliminating the 10th-seeded Sébastien Grosjean, of France, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

British tennis history is part of Tim Henman's baggage. Every major championships is a challenge to reprise the feats of his predecessors, although Fred Perry's collection of the four Grand Slam singles titles is likely to remain a museum piece.

Today, for the fifth time in six years, Henman will attempt to become the first Briton to advance to the fourth round of the men's singles at the French Open since Roger Taylor back in 1973.

Moreover, the 29-year-old from Oxfordshire has an opportunity to equal a record in his own family. His grandfather, Henry Billington, advanced to the fourth round at the French Championships in 1939 - and at that time the fourth round and the quarter-finals were one and the same.

In the third round, Billington defeated Jozsef Asboth, of Hungary, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. Asboth went on to win the title in 1947, becoming the first eastern European to lift the trophy.

Taylor, a Yorkshireman with whom Henman shares the distinction of being a Wimbledon semi-finalist, won his fourth-round match against Paul Gerken at Roland Garros in 1973. Taylor lost in the quarter-finals to the Romanian rascal Ilie Nastase, who then went on to defeat Niki Pilic in the final.

Two weeks later, Pilic's banishment from the Yugoslav Davis Cup team was the catalyst of another slice of history - the Wimbledon boycott by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Henman, who won his opening two matches in spite of a viral infection, must now overcome Galo Blanco, of Spain, whom he defeated in straight sets here in the first round of the 2002 tournament.

In their only match prior to that, the first round in Monte Carlo in 1998, Blanco's top-spin made Henman look the clay-court novice he was.