Henman confirms superiority over Costa

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The Independent Online

Britain versus the future of tennis is the billing today at the Eurocard Open here. Tim Henman will jostle with the 19-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt for Masters Cup qualifying points, Greg Rusedski will seek a morale-boosting win against the 20-year-old Russian Marat Safin - and the winners will meet in tomorrow's quarter-finals.

Britain versus the future of tennis is the billing today at the Eurocard Open here. Tim Henman will jostle with the 19-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt for Masters Cup qualifying points, Greg Rusedski will seek a morale-boosting win against the 20-year-old Russian Marat Safin - and the winners will meet in tomorrow's quarter-finals.

Time is catching up with Henman and Rusedski, a point underlined by the fact that each is seven years older than his opponent today, Hewitt and Safin having been projected in the vanguard of the ATP Tour's promotional campaign, saucily titled "New Balls Please".

Fortunately, Henman has been playing some of his best tennis of the year, winning 12 of his last 14 matches and lifting a title in Vienna, and Rusedski appears to have found his serve, rekindled his confidence, and has performed in a manner that mocks his standing at No 89 in the tournament entry system.

Moreover, the indoor hard court here is designed to suit the various styles of play: slow enough to enable Hewitt and Safin to construct points from the baseline without dulling the serving and volleying of Henman and Rusedski, especially since the altitude causes the balls to fly.

Henman, who had won his two previous matches against Albert Costa without dropping a set on outdoor hard courts, extended his superiority in the second round yesterday, 6-2, 6-3, although the Spaniard passed well enough to recover a break at 1-2 in the first set and was able to play his way out of trouble when serving at 2-2, 0-40 in the second set.

The crux of the contest came two games later, with Costa serving at 3-3, 30-40. Spectators were treated to as good a rally as we have seen so far, Henman resisting the urge to risk a rush for the net and instead matching Costa shot for shot as the players sped from side to side, testing each other with deep, angled shots until Costa lofted the ball and Henman smashed it away.

"I think my movement was my biggest asset there," Henman said. "When I'm getting run around from side to side, I feel like I'm getting to the ball quickly, playing very consistently."

Henman's scurrying was not enough to discourage Hewitt in their only previous encounter, outdoors on a hard court in the final at Scottsdale, Arizona, in March, although the British No 1 ought to have forced a third set before Hewitt prevailed, 6-4, 7-6.

"You have to get the balance right," Henman said. "There's no point in just trying to out-rally him from the baseline, but there's no point in just coming in on junk - you know he's going to pass you. I'm not going to approach the match thinking about Champions Race points or whatever. I've got to play my own game, see what happens."

Henman's hopes of qualifying for Lisbon have been encouraged by defeats here for Spain's Alex Corretja and Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, the defending champion.

Safin, the No 1 seed, has not looked so pleased with himself since overwhelming Pete Sampras to win the United States Open, having finally exorcised Fabrice Santoro, the Frenchman who had haunted him for five matches.

"I didn't look at him, what he was doing, because when you look at him, you forget how to play tennis, for sure," Safin said after winning their second-round match, 6-2, 6-4.

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