Henman prepares for 'Beast of Belarus'

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman, the British No 1, is due to meet Max Mirnyi, from Minsk, for the first time here this afternoon as they duel for a place in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Open.

Mirnyi, 6ft 5in and unflatteringly nicknamed "The Beast of Belarus" on the basis of his vigorous serve-volley style, was a quarter-finalist here last year. But he is best remembered for an astonishing run to the final at the Tennis Masters Series event in Stuttgart in October, defeating four former Grand Slam champions en route.

Before the 24-year-old Mirnyi could get to grips with the masters of his trade, he had to save two match points against Jan Vacek in the first round of qualifying. In the main draw, he overcame Olivier Rochus, of Belgium, Gustavo Kuerten, the world No 1 at the time (saving two match points), Goran Ivanisevic (saving two match points), Pete Sampras and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. In the final, Mirnyi lost to Tommy Haas, of Germany, in straight sets.

Yesterday afternoon, when temperatures again rose above 90F, Mirnyi, No 38 in the ATP tournament entry system, defeated Renzo Furlan, of Italy, 7-6, 6-2. Marginally cooler conditions are forecast today, but Henman will expect a hotter time than in his opening match against Omar Bahrouzyan, a local wild card, ranked No 1,030, when he won in only 42 minutes.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the second seed, was grateful for a drop in the temperature last night, when he defeated Sjeng Schalken, of the Netherlands, 6-1, 7-6. The Russian trailed 4-2 in the second set before recovering to win the tie-break, 7-5.

There was no respite for Nicolas Kiefer, of Germany, who has been unable to beat anybody except the Wimbledon champion so far this year. Kiefer followed Monday's first-round win against the ailing Ivanisevic by losing yesterday to Ivan Ljubicic, Ivanisevic's Croatian compatriot, 6-4, 6-2.

It was Kiefer's eighth defeat in nine matches, and the German may be wondering if he is suffering from Goranitis (break serve/lose serve). Just as Kiefer capitalised on Ivanisevic's inability to hold on to his gains on Monday, so Ljubicic made the most of his opponent's insecurity yesterday to advance to the quarter-finals.

"The first six games decided the whole match, even thought it was 3-3," Ljubicic said. "Kiefer was breaking me, but I still stayed on top of him." Ljubicic next plays Fabrice Santoro, of France, who eliminated his compatriot Sebastien Grosjean, the fourth seed, 6-2, 7-5.

Ljubicic, who was inspired by Ivanisevic's Wimbledon triumph, is worried about his 30-year-old friend's welfare. "I know Goran is having big problems with his shoulder," he said. "Now he's going to take a week off, and, hopefully, he will be better for his next tournament."

Roger Federer, who won his opening match here, beating Adrian Voinea, of Romania, 6-3, 6-4, was asked for his views on the sport's most eminent thirty-somethings, Sampras and Andre Agassi. Federer, it will be remembered, ended Sampras's run of 31 consecutive wins in the fourth round at the All England Club, 7-5 in the fifth set.

"I think Pete's only goal these days is Wimbledon," the 20-year-old Swiss said. "I don't think he has the will to win the French Open. I think he just hopes he's fit and gels his game ready for Wimbledon. He'll probably be the top seed. After all, he's won it seven times. Andre is still the best player outdoors on hard courts. I still think that, at their best, Pete and Andre can beat the rest of us. But they may not have too long to go."

With that, Federer turned his attention to a second-match against Rainer Schuettler, of Germany, tonight.

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