Rusedski wiped out as Henman cleans up

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The Independent Online

Some defeats are worse than others, and Greg Rusedski will not forget yesterday's match in a hurry. It was none the better for its brevity, for a four-setter that is over in 93 minutes can only spell humiliation for the loser.

Some defeats are worse than others, and Greg Rusedski will not forget yesterday's match in a hurry. It was none the better for its brevity, for a four-setter that is over in 93 minutes can only spell humiliation for the loser.

The British No 2 was put through purgatory by Andy Roddick, who won the first set in 18 minutes, conceding not a single game and only two points on his serve. Rusedski took the second, but even he did not believe he deserved it. Less than hour later, his torment was complete. The scoreboard read 6-0, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Rusedski is the second biggest server in the game, but Roddick - who holds the 155mph record - is the biggest. The No 2 seed, too, has more weapons to rely on. When Rusedski's serve deserts him, he is in serious trouble. In the second-round match at the Australian Open, he won only 37 per cent of points on his second serve, to his opponent's 67 per cent.

"I didn't play as well as I'd like tonight," he said, with singular understatement. "I didn't make enough balls and play enough returns. He was much the better player. Sometimes you have these days when nothing really works for you, and that's the sort of day I had. You just have to try to put it behind you."

Asked about his plans regarding the Davis Cup, following Tim Henman's withdrawal from the team, he replied: "I can't think about anything after that match, to be honest."

Rusedski had his serve broken in the opening game, and again in the third and fifth, losing 10 consecutive points and winning only 11 in the set. He donned a hat during one changeover, but if that was supposed to help, it did not.

The 2003 US Open champion forced a frenetically quick pace, and continued to dominate in the second set. The 31-year-old Briton exploited his one poor game, in which he produced two double-faults. But the score - one set all - did not reflect the reality on court. The 22-year-old American then rattled off the third and fourth sets in 25 and 24 minutes respectively.

Afterwards he appeared shocked at the speed of his win. "You never expect to play a match like that, especially against a guy like Greg," he said. "Tonight it was just clicking for me."

Henman fared better against Victor Hanescu, playing the Romanian for the first time. There are similarities between the two men, including their hairstyles (short, black and tufty), but the differences are more pronounced. Hanescu is seven years younger (23), five inches taller (6ft 6in) and 81 points lower in the rankings. His ATP title tally is nil, whereas Henman has won 11. He dripped with sweat during their tie, while the British No 7 seed barely raised one.

The two-hour match - culminating in a 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 win for the British No 1 - was short on drama and short on just about everything else. The words "paint" and "dry" sprang repeatedly to mind as the pair toiled towards the inevitable conclusion.

Henman, who tomorrow meets Nikolai Davydenko, the Russian No 26 seed, lost his serve early in the first set but broke back straight away, then converted a set point on the Romanian's serve at 6-5. In the second set, he dropped only one game; in the third, he saved three break points, broke Hanescu's serve for a 5-4 lead and served out the match.

Henman's post-match press conference was about as absorbing as the tennis. "I played well," he observed. "I was unlucky to lose my serve in the first set, but I responded well."

As spectators pinched themselves to stay awake, a far more entertaining encounter was playing out on Rod Laver Arena, where James Blake stole the first set off Lleyton Hewitt, the local hero, and took him to the brink during a second-set tie-break.

In a match replete with on-court theatrics, Blake - who broke vertebrae in his neck last year and lost his father to stomach cancer - had two set points in the second set. But he cut his racket hand during the tie-break and thereafter crumbled, losing 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-3.

The men's draw lost four seeds, including Sébastian Grosjean, Andrei Pavel and Nicolas Massu, the latter forced to retire with an injured foot. Mikhail Youzhny, the No 15, was beaten in five sets by the talented Spanish teenager, Rafael Nadal.

In the women's draw, Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva advanced in straight sets, while Lindsay Davenport, the No 1 seed, and Anastasia Myskina, the French Open champion, dropped a set en route to the third round. The No 20 seed, Tatiana Golovin, was knocked out by a greenhorn American, Abigail Spears.

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