Henman given fillip by defeat of Kuerten the clay maestro

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Beating Gustavo Kuerten on a clay court - even when the Brazilian maestro is struggling to find his old form after hip surgery - counts as a milestone for any player. Tim Henman accomplished the feat yesterday, 6-3, 6-3, and advanced to the second round of the Rome Masters.

The British No 1 has now won five of his eight matches against Kuerten - the most notable success coming in the third round of the Paris Masters indoors en route to his biggest title to date - but this was their first meeting on clay, the sport's slowest surface.

It could be argued that Henman, the fourth seed, was the favourite to defeat the 110th-ranked Kuerten, particularly remembering that the serve-volleyer from Oxfordshire progressed to the French Open semi- finals last June.

None the less, Henman was facing a man with a magnificent history on clay courts - three French Open triumphs along with titles in Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg.

"He's coming back from injury, but it's still a great win for me to beat him on this surface," Henman said. "I've had good preparation for this tournament, and it showed in my performance. I played very well." Henman was in dominant mood, and the 28-year-old Brazilian was unable to counter the Briton's effort in long, draining rallies.

An unfortunate incident in the seventh game may have also unsettled the Brazilian. Attempting to intercept Henman's serve at 3-3, 15-0, Kuerten saw the ball fly off the frame of his racket and then hit the baseline judge in the eye. Kuerten ran across the court to apologise as the other officials gathered round the linesman, who adjusted his sunglasses and signalled that he was ready for play to continue.

Henman went on to hold to love and won the next three points on Kuerten's serve. Though denied the first two opportunities, Henman was rewarded when Kuerten hit a forehand wide on the third. Serving out the set was not a formality. Henman lost the opening two points of the ninth game, responding with four winners - ace, service winner, ace, and a forehand drive down the line on set point. A break for 4-3 was enough to secure the second set.

Greg Rusedski, drawn against the top-seeded Andy Roddick in his opening match, was defeated, 6-4, 6-2. The British No 2, who double-faulted six times, found that it does not matter what surface you play on if you neglect to bring your serve.

Roddick, in contrast, did not lose a point on his serve until the second game of the second set. The 22-year-old American was asked if he had signed with René Lacoste's clothing company in the hope of emulating the French Musketeer on clay. "No, that's just a perk that goes along with it," the American joked.

Lacoste, whose logo was taken from his nickname, "The Crocodile", won the French Championships three times in the first five finals played at Roland Garros in Paris from 1925. Successful though he was, he would not have imagined a player serving at 155mph like Roddick, or even 149mph like Rusedski.

The 44th-ranked Rusedski has not had the luck of the draw of late. He lost to Roger Federer, the world No 1, in the opening round of last month's Monte Carlo Masters. "I'm beginning to wonder if there's a conspiracy," he joked, adding: "I'll be looking forward to the grass after my weeks on clay." Never comfortable on the surface, Rusedski has not won an ATP Tour match on clay since Rome 2001. He admits that you would get better odds on seeing a UFO land in Britain than on his winning the French Open.

"I was pleased with the way I hit my ground strokes," he said, "but I'm going to hit a lot of serves in practice before Hamburg next week."

Richard Gasquet, the 18-year-old French qualifier who defeated Federer in Monte Carlo, qualified again here and won his opening match against Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, 6-0, 6-2.

Gasquet was asked about his recent appearance on a 7pm Canal+ talkshow on which another guest was a porn actress. "It was a bit embarrassing," said Gasquet. "I don't usually meet people who do that job."

¿ The Former French Open champion Mary Pierce comfortably beat the Russian Anna Chakvetadze, 6-4, 6-3, to reach the second round of the German Open in Berlin yesterday. The 30-year-old Frenchwoman was confident throughout.

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