Martin the barrier to new age of Henman

Played eight, lost eight: Rusedski must overcome poor record but time is against his rival in battle of big servers
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The Independent Online

At the US Open they make much of their Super Saturday, when two men's semi-finals and the women's final are crammed into one day, purely for the benefit of television. At Wimbledon they are preparing for Marathon Monday with traditional understatement and lack of fuss. Tomorrow is when the fourth round of both men's and women's singles are scheduled; 16 high-quality matches.

What makes the start of Wimbledon's second week magical, of course, is that among those still standing are many big names: Sampras, the Williamses, Agassi, Davenport, Capriati. And our gallant boys, Tim 'n' Greg. Those with tickets for tomorrow are fortunate. Those possessed of the stamina to spend the weekend in a tent outside the ground are to be envied. It should be a great day.

Rusedski seems to have been the more assertive, confident and sure-footed of Britain's remaining pair. Both men have conceded only one set in three rounds – Rusedski to Andrei Pavel in his opening match, Henman to Sjeng Schalken on Friday evening – but the unseeded Rused-ski's grin, a centimetre or two wider than ever, is indication that he is a happy chappie. Henman has gone about his work with the inevitable shadow of Pete Sampras cast into his path. They remain on course for a quarter-final collision on Wednesday, always provided Henman can find a way past Todd Martin tomorrow and the defending champion can repel the increasingly urgent challenge represented by the brilliant Swiss 19-year-old Roger Federer.

At least Henman has managed two wins over the 6ft 6in Martin in their five meetings, and his improvement since their last match, at a Davis Cup tie in Birmingham two years ago, means he will fancy his prospects. There is also the age factor, since Martin will turn 31 on the day of the men's final.

Rusedski, who cares deeply about such things, has to face up to an appalling head-to-head statistic against Goran Ivanisevic. Played eight, lost the lot. The grin wavers a fraction when Greg discusses that one. Minutes after demolishing Juan Carlos Ferrero on Friday, Rusedski was insisting: "I'm really looking forward to Goran. I think I've maybe had a total of 15 match points against him but never gotten over the hurdle.

"I think it's going to be a great match. It's always tight. Usually 7-6 in the third, or a long four- or five-set match. I'd love to get my first win over him. It's going to be tough for me, another match where I'm going to have to play better again, return well, pick his serve. It's going to come down to only one or two points," he forecast. "Like usual."

Rusedski did manage to defeat Ivanisevic in an exhibition at Surbiton three weeks ago, and in his position every little confidence-booster is welcome. As John McEnroe has pointed out, it is time for Rusedski to get his name on the scoreboard for real and, despite Goran's scintillating form in ousting Andy Roddick, now could be the time.

The 29-year-old Croatian, three times runner-up at Wimbledon (1992, 1994, 1998), is struggling with a left shoulder that is sore after many years of rocketing down thousands of aces. His form this year has been so abysmal that he needed the generosity of a wild card to get into the tournament, having won only eight of his 18 matches since January.

However, rather like Boris Becker, offer Goran a sniff of SW19's turf and he is a new man. "It's the greatest tournament," he said. "I just love it, I love to be here. The first day I ever came here I said I wanted to leave the place proud of myself. So far, I cannot be prouder than I am. But I think I can be even prouder when I finish this tournament. Now I expect more things from myself. I think I can go a long way this time."

Rusedski's greatest problem in the past has been in reading the Ivanisevic serve, a strange admission considering both are left-handers who specialise in the dealing of aces. So this weekend he has been recruiting lefties to practise with. "Maybe I'll ask Barry Cowan, or Wayne Arthurs, someone like that who has a big serve," he said.

Henman has yet to get the better of Martin on grass, having lost to him in straight sets at Queen's seven years ago (when the American was at his best) and at Wimbledon in 1996, also in straight sets. But he has won two of the last three and clearly fancies Todd as a tall timber in need of toppling. "Todd is a very dangerous grass-court player," he said. "He's got a very good record here and a pretty good record on every surface. He's been in big-match situations before. At this stage it's going to boil down to who plays best on the day, and, obviously, I hope that's going to be me. What is most important to me right now is that I'm coming back to play again on Monday. When I analyse my performances, I think they've been pretty solid. I feel confident with my game. And the noise of the crowd is certainly the way I like it."

Things are now going the way Sampras likes them, too, following his uncomfortable outing against Cowan last Wednesday. He is into the second week, with 31 successive singles victories at Wimbledon, and the second week, claims Pete, is when he really comes to life and starts playing better. He should know, having already gone the distance seven times and won four in a row. Making it five this year would match the mark of Bjorn Borg from 1976-1980, something Sampras says he knew nothing about until he turned up in London this year and started facing media interrogation.

In Federer, he will face that dangerous item, an unknown quantity. They have never played a match, though Pete recalls: "I did practise with him one time." Either from that session, or from scouting reports, Sampras has formed the following opinion: "Roger doesn't have too many holes in his game, serves and volleys well, returns quite well, has a good one-handed backhand." That ought to be enough to be going on with as the big guns head into Marathon Monday.

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