Henman fails the tie-break test as Ljubicic stands tall

Tim Henman failed a tough examination of his skills in Doha yesterday while his Davis Cup team-mate Greg Rusedski was grabbing all the attention following a test of another kind.

As his compatriot was expounding on elevated levels of nandrolone metabolites, Henman paid the penalty for losing two tie-breaks in a rain-interrupted semi-final against Ivan Ljubicic in the Qatar Open, losing 7-6, 3-6, 7-6.

The shaven-headed Croatian caused Henman a number of problems with his big serve but it was a collapse in the second of two tie-breaks which cost the British No 1. The first set was a tight affair as games went with serve until Henman managed to break in the 11th to take a 6-5 lead.

But he could not hold on to the advantage and was immediately broken back. The 6ft 4in Ljubicic then maintained the momentum to take the tie-break 7-2. Henman - a Doha finalist in 1997 and 1999 - responded by holding serve in the first game of the second set before play was suspended for 10 minutes due to rain.

The break appeared to do him good as he returned to take the next two games and move into a 3-0 lead. Henman then held serve comfortably to take the set and get himself back on level terms.

Ljubicic made a steadier start to the third, which was also interrupted by rain, but could not make a significant impact on Henman as the set went with serve. Henman was presented with a chance to take a 5-4 lead and an opportunity to serve for the match as the Croatian's nerve deserted him on the back of unforced errors.

But the Briton squandered three break points and the Bosnian-born 24-year-old recovered. Ljubicic also missed an opening to win the match when, with the scores 6-5 in his favour, he took a 0-30 lead against Henman's serve.

But Henman, backed by an enthusiastic contingent of ex-pats, battled back to take the match to another tie-break. He was on the cusp of victory as he won four consecutive points to go 5-2 in front in the decider but Ljubicic won the next five to secure a final against Nicolas Escude. The Frenchman beat Argentina's Agustin Calleri 6-2, 6-3 in the day's other semi-final.

In Sydney, meanwhile, the doubles specialist Michael Llodra upset the second seed, Vincent Spadea, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian men's hardcourt championships in Adelaide.

Llodra, who teamed up with his fellow Frenchman Fabrice Santoro to win last year's Australian Open doubles title, sent the American spinning with a straight sets win. The tournament, one of the main lead-up events to the Australian Open starting a week Monday, has been devastated by the early departure of the seeds.

The only seeded player to survive until the weekend is Finland's sixth-seed Jarkko Nieminen, who disposed of the Australian wildcard Todd Reid 6-2, 7-5 yesterday. The left-handed Nieminen will play Dominik Hrbaty in today's semi-finals after the Slovakian beat Cyril Saulnier of France 6-4, 7-6.

The former Australian Open champion, Swede Thomas Johansson, was scheduled to play American Taylor Dent in last night's other quarter-final.

In Madras, the defending champion, Paradorn Srich- aphan of Thailand, stayed on course for his third successive appearance in the final of the Tata Open as he defeated the Russian Igor Andreev 6-3, 7-6 to cruise through to the semi-finals.

The second-seeded Par- adorn, who last year became the first Asian player to break into the world top 10 before finishing 11th in the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, was the losing finalist here in 2002, but returned to win the title without dropping a set last year.

The 24-year-old's semi-final opponent was due to be the winner of the last night's quarter-final between the fourth-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo and Jean-Rene Lisnard, of France.

Carlos Moya, the No 7 in the world, beat the Frenchman Thierry Ascione 6-4, 6-4. Sjeng Schalken, the world No 18, staged a rally in the final set to prevail 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 against the Spaniard Felix Mantilla, who dropped a crucial service when serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set.

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