Rusedski looks to overpower Henman in duel in the desert

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The Independent Online

Britain'S top two players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, are due to face each other at the Dubai Open here tomorrow night. It will be only the eighth time the pair have met on the ATP Tour, and the first match between the two for three years.

Britain'S top two players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, are due to face each other at the Dubai Open here tomorrow night. It will be only the eighth time the pair have met on the ATP Tour, and the first match between the two for three years.

Henman, the nation's No 1, has won five of his seven previous Tour matches against the Canadian-born Rusedski, who pledged himself to Britain's cause in 1995. Henman also defeated Rusedski in two finals at the now defunct National Championships.

"I remember my wins and try to forget my losses," Rusedski said yesterday, recalling victories in the semi-finals in Vienna in 1997 and in a round-robin match at the 1998 ATP Championships in Hanover. "I particularly remember the match in Hanover, which was for a place in the world's top 10."

Henman, who won their last match, in the third round at the 2002 Australian Open, smiled when he heard that he had drawn Rusedski, but admitted that, "five years ago there would have been a bigger feel to the match. Our matches used to be built up into more of a rivalry. But it's always going to have that extra something when two players from the same country meet."

Rusedski added: "I had a sneaking feeling that I would draw Tim when I heard he'd taken a wild card. There's extra motivation to show who is the best player in Britain on the day."

Both men have recovered from injuries that handicapped their starts to the season. Henman had back problems, Rusedski a bruised rib.

"Playing in Rotterdam last week felt like the start of the year for me," Henman said. "It was the first time in 2005 I was playing without pain."

Henman, the third seed, is ranked No 7 in the world, Rusedski No 45. "I always think the person ranked higher has more pressure," Rusedski said, "but really it's all about the pressure you put on yourself. This year I've beaten everybody I'm supposed to beat, on paper. Now it's time to take a step up against top 10 players. If I play aggressive tennis and go after my serve, I'll have a good chance to win."

Henman emphasised that being drawn against Rusedski in the opening round showed the tournament's strength in depth. The field includes five Grand Slam singles champions: Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Thomas Johansson. "You've got to be on top of you game from point one," Henman said.

The 34-year-old Agassi will be playing in the Middle East for the first time, and there has been talk of his using the visit to invest in property here." My business here is between the lines," he said when asked about this. "Eight of us have come from Las Vegas to enjoy the experience."

British tennis appears to be even deeper in a desert than its foremost protagonists. Jeremy Bates, the Davis Cup captain, today will signal life without Henman when he announces his squad for next week's Euro/African Zone tie against Israel in Tel Aviv. Bates will pencil in Rusedski and add the names of a support group of callow candidates, including Andrew Murray, of Scotland, the US Open junior champion. The 30-year-old Henman has retired from the Davis Cup to devote his energies to tournaments.

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