Rusedski rises as Henman falls

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The Independent Online

The promise of a British duel today in the quarter-finals of the Eurocard Open failed to materialise. Greg Rusedski kept his end of the bargain by beating Marat Safin, Russia's United States Open champion and No 1 seed, in straight sets, but Tim Henman ran into an animated Australian backboard that goes by the name of Lleyton Hewitt.

The promise of a British duel today in the quarter-finals of the Eurocard Open failed to materialise. Greg Rusedski kept his end of the bargain by beating Marat Safin, Russia's United States Open champion and No 1 seed, in straight sets, but Tim Henman ran into an animated Australian backboard that goes by the name of Lleyton Hewitt.

While Rusedski's progress was important to his general well-being, Henman's third-round defeat, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, began to close the door on his challenge for a place in the Masters Cup in Lisbon at the end of the month. Hewitt, one of Henman's close rivals in the ATP Champions Race, was able to increase the gap between them to 70 points.

Rusedski is in a position to peg Hewitt to that advantage today, although the British No 2's only concern is to continue his rehabilitation as a force to be reckoned with and his one worry is a niggling pain in the back that affected him during the second set yesterday.

Hewitt won, 7-6, 6-2, when the pair met last week in the quarter-finals in Basle, and it will be interesting to see how much Rusedski's confidence has grown in the space of a few days. "If someone's going to beat me, they're going to have to play good tennis," he said. "That's a nice feeling." Positively elevating, in fact, for a player who started the week at No 89 in the ATP Tour entry list.

Psychologically, Rusedski's 7-6, 6-4 victory against Safin may prove as crucial as his triumph over Pete Sampras in the final of the Paris Indoor tournament two years ago.

Rusedski, broken for 3-4 in the first set, recovered the break as Safin served for the set at 5-4, driving a forehand with such power that the ball flew into the crowd off Safin's racket frame when he tried to parry the shot. Rusedski went on to demoralise Safin by sweeping through the tie-break, 7-2. "I think [Safin] was putting a little extra pressure on himself," Rusedski said. "This week he was talking about if he got to the semis, he'd be No 1. That was a big thing."

The patience with which Rusedski played the point that enabled him to make the decisive break for 2-1 in the second set, Safin netting a backhand, was typical of his approach. "My movement around the court was very good today," Rusedski said. "That's the key for me: if my movement's not so good, my groundstrokes look pretty poor."

Safin was dejected. "I lost a big opportunity to be a little bit closer to No 1," the 20-year-old Muscovite said. "I played too passive. You have to give something more than just pass the ball over the net. He served well. He played well from the baseline. He did not miss many balls."

The Henman-Hewitt contest developed into a mini-marathon after an opening dominated by nerves. Henman lost his serve to love in the first game, recovered the break for 3-3 and was virtually gifted the set when Hewitt double-faulted for 3-5.

Hewitt was broken only once in the second set, when serving at 5-1, and that minor success encouraged Henman to attack when the Australian was serving in the second game of the final set. Having pushed his opponent to deuce, Henman was rewarded when Hewitt double-faulted. Henman netted a backhand on that opportunity and pushed a volley wide when a second chance came.

Henman contrived to save six break points in a 20-minute seventh game, but, two games later, was under pressure again. He lost four consecutive points from 40-15, hitting a backhand wide from a return on the break point and then being warned for hitting a ball into the crowd in frustration. Hewitt held to love.

Regarding his prospects of qualifying for Lisbon, Henman said: "While it's mathematically possible I'll go out there and give it everything... I'm not going to become despondent, because that's not the way I'm going to keep moving forward."

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