Henman saves match point to beat distraught Rusedski

Greg Rusedski was inconsolable last night after failing to convert a match point before losing to Tim Henman for the sixth time in eight meetings on the ATP Tour.

Greg Rusedski was inconsolable last night after failing to convert a match point before losing to Tim Henman for the sixth time in eight meetings on the ATP Tour.

"I'm not really thinking positively right now," said Rusedski, who vented his frustration by breaking a racket after missing a volley to drop his serve in the seventh game of the final set on the way to losing 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Open

"I think for two sets I was the better player all the way," he added. "You put in all the hard work. You put yourself in a position to win - and you don't."

The sun had long since set over the centre court, and the floodlights finally twinkled out on what was perhaps the end of a decade of rivalry between Henman and Rusedski.

"I hope not," Henman said on the eve of the contest between Britain's only élite performers. "I certainly see myself playing for a few more years, and, as long as Greg's around, there's no reason why we can't meet at more of these events."

Rusedski, 31, had hoped to improve his poor record against Henman, particularly since he will shoulder the responsibility for the immediate future of Britain's Davis Cup team, starting in Israel next week, now that the 30-year-old Henman has retired from the national cause.

Although the match lacked much of the dynamism of Andre Agassi's debut in the Middle East here on Monday night, Henman's finesse and Rusedski's power generated tension for all three sets. "I think that it was the best match we've played against each other," Henman said.

Rusedski took the opening set after a decisive break in the ninth game, and hit a service return over the baseline on match point at 7-6 in the second-set tie-break. Henman went on to win the shoot-out 9-7, converting his third set point with an angled backhand volley.

As the match began to slip from his grasp, Rusedski missed a forehand volley to lose his serve in the seventh game of the final set. He let his racket fall to the court, then picked it up and smashed it, incurring a code violation from the umpire.

Marat Safin, the Australian Open champion, disappointed in his first match since coming out on top in the Australian Open, losing to Nicolas Kiefer, of Germany, 7-6, 6-4.

Brad Gilbert, the Californian who contributed to the success of both Agassi and Andy Roddick, finds it "frightening" that America currently has only seven men in the world's top 100. He would like to see 15 at that level, the same number as the Spanish contenders.

One of these, the 20th-ranked Feliciano Lopez, is due to play Agassi in the second round in Dubai today. Although Lopez did not play for Spain in their Davis Cup triumph against the United States in Seville last December, he did help his nation to progress to the final. Agassi, of course, has answered the American captain's call for him to return to the team against Croatia next week, less than two months before his 35th birthday.

"The ATP tour is very tough, so I don't think I'm going to play at 35," Lopez said yesterday, after defeating an ailing Paradorn Srichaphan, of Thailand 6-2 3-6 6-3. "But Andre is a legend and he still has the motivation."

The 23-year-old Lopez, runner-up to Roger Federer here last year, lost to Agassi 7-6 6-7 7-5 in their only previous match, in Madrid in 2002.

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