Henmanreveals ruthless instincts

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Tim Henman battled his way into the last eight of the RCA Championships here with a thrilling win over Younes El Aynaoui late on Thursday night.

Tim Henman battled his way into the last eight of the RCA Championships here with a thrilling win over Younes El Aynaoui late on Thursday night.

Henman, seeded seventh, had to recover from losing the opening set to beat the ninth-seeded Moroccan 4-6, 6-2, 7-6. El Aynaoui saved three match points in the 12th game of the final set to force the tie-break.

In the sudden-death decider, Henman finally prevailed as he converted the first of four more match points via a forehand into the net by the Moroccan.

The pair had met only once before, with Henman also battling back from losing the opening set to win in Qatar in January 1999, where he eventually went on to finish as the runner-up.

Henman is continuing the good form which saw him reach the final of the ATP Masters Series event in Cincinnati last week, where he eventually lost to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist.

Henman said: "It was a tough one to get through and I'm really pleased I came through it. In a third-set tie-break situation it's difficult when he is serving well.

"We were both serving well and it was going to be a question of who made the first serves and who took their chances. And I think that was definitely me.

"I kept a high percentage, made him play a lot of balls and it paid off. So I was relieved."

Henman will meet either Yevgeny Kafelnikov or Gianluca Pozzi in the last eight. Their third-round match was delayed by a thunderstorm. Most observers believe that the second-seeded Russian Kafelnikov will progress to face Henman, and the Briton accepts that he will be a formidable foe if that happens.

Henman added: "I think I've played him more than any other player. I've played him 12 times and he's up 8-4". However, the score is 3-3 on hard-court surfaces and Henman won their only previous match this year in Rotterdam.

"So it's always going to be tough when you play someone like Yevgeny.

"But I think I've got better in the two matches here and, hopefully, if I can keep making those improvements and keep serving the way I served in the last two sets today, it should be a good match.

"He's a great player and he's always going to be tough because he's got a very good all-round game," Henman added, "but I'd look forward to it. I don't feel like I've got anything to lose in a match like that, so I'll give it my best shot."

Gustavo Kuerten, of Brazil, also advanced to the quarterfinals, while the defending champion, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, was knocked out in the third round.

Lapentti, seeded sixth this year, was beaten7-6, 6-2 by the No 12 seed, Sebastien Grosjean of France. Kuerten rebuffed a strong challenge from the unseeded Taylor Dent with a 6-2, 7-6 victory. "He is a good player, so I'm happy just to get out with a win," said Kuerten, who reached the quarter-finals for the second successive year by overcoming the 19-year-old American. He didn't start so well. I took advantage in the first set. I really played great, and didn't give him any chances with my serve."

Kuerten will meet the 10th-seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, who beat Xavier Malisse of Belgium, 6-4, 6-2.

The No 4 seed, Thomas Enqvist of Sweden, who won last week's tournament in Cincinnati, battled the unseeded Carlos Moya, of Spain, for nearly two hours before winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. Enqvist was due to play the No 5 seed Lleyton Hewitt of Australia last night. Hewitt had a comfortable 6-2, 6-4 win over the No 11 seed, Albert Costa of Spain.