Henman sees off Kuerten as Roddick becomes new world No 1

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The Independent Online

A fascinating day's play at the Paris Masters ended with Tim Henman advancing to his first quarter-final here, having dismantled the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, a three times French Open champion, 6-4, 6-2.

The British No 1 produced some of his most fluent tennis of a troubled season, relaxing into his shot-making and serving with pace as well as placement. Henman will tonight play Roger Federer, the 22-year-old Wimbledon champion, who edged a thrilling contest against the Dutchman Martin Verkerek 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. Federer saved four match points and won on his third match point.

Thankfully, in spite of myriad problems in the sport, competition continues to sizzle at the top of the men's game. Andy Roddick yesterday became the 22nd world No 1 since ATP computer rankings began in 1973.

The 21-year-old Nebraskan, who supplanted Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, is the sixth American to head the rankings and the fourth No 1 in a season that has also seen the leadership in the possession of Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi. Roddick, Ferrero, and the Swiss Roger Federer, the latest Grand Slam singles champions, are locked in a three-way battle to finish the year as No 1.

Ferrero, the 23-year-old French Open champion, lost ground here yesterday in the last tournament before the Masters Cup in Houston, falling in the third round of the Paris Masters to the experienced, often underestimated Czech, Jiri Novak, 7-5, 7-5.

Roddick, the United States Open champion, swiftly took advantage, overpowering Tommy Robredo, of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, to advance to the quarter-finals. It was Roddick's sixth consecutive win against Robredo. Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden, is next in line for the American, who is trying to add the Paris title to his Masters Series victories in Montreal and Cincinnati last summer.

"It's pretty cool," Roddick said, "I got to No 1 and no one can take that away from me, ever. But there is still a lot ahead ­ and it's all going to come down to the Masters Cup."

Having won the Madrid Masters two weeks ago, Ferrero may be feeling the strain of the race, particularly since his season will not end in Texas. He goes from there to Melbourne for the Davis Cup final against Australia, who are putting down a grass court in the hope of capitalising on home advantage.

Ferrero said he played "a solid match without mistakes" against Novak, adding that the only thing missing from his performance was the reliability of his serve. He intends to watch a video of the match to check exactly why his delivery let him down.

Novak, ranked No 18, is generally a dangerous opponent; the more so when he senses a weakness at the other end of the court. He broke for 3-1 in the opening set and remained confident after Ferrero recovered in the next game, pouncing to take the set in 43 minutes after the Spaniard double-faulted on game point at 5-6.

Ferrero had two opportunities to come back into the match with Novak serving at 2-2 in the second set. Ferrero sliced a forehand over the baseline on the first chance, and Novak saved the second with a backhand drive.

The Czech had two match points with Ferrero serving at 4-5 ­ the Spaniard encapsulating his afternoon's work by following a superb drop-shot from the baseline with a double-fault ­ and converted his third match point with Ferrero serving at 5-6.

"I'm going to fight with all my power to get to the year end as No 1," Ferrero said. "I have one more week until I go to Houston. And then one more week to go to the Davis Cup. I think I have enough time to take some rest and get ready to play again."

Whatever happens in the Masters Cup, Ferrero knows he will face a torrid time in Melbourne, given the manner of Spain's victory over Australia in the 1999 final in front of a rowdy crowd in Barcelona.

"The Australians talked a little bit after the final that the crowd in Spain was a little bit strange, or whatever," Ferrero said. "We expect the Australian crowd will be the same. We're going to be very motivated."

The eight men who have qualified for the Masters Cup are: Roddick, Ferrero, Federer, Guillermo Coria, Agassi, Rainer Schüttler, Carlos Moya and David Nalbandian.