Shadow of Federer falls across Henman

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The Independent Online

As unseeded players Britain's leading men all knew they would be at the mercy of the draw at Wimbledon next week and Andy Murray, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were duly presented with challenging tests when their names came out of the hat at the All England Club yesterday.

Although he was not given as stiff a first-round task as the British No 4, Alex Bogdanovic, who meets Rafael Nadal, the French Open champion, Henman should have an even bigger job on his hands if he beats Sweden's Robin Soderling, the world No 48. In the second round the British No 2 would play Roger Federer, provided the defending champion does not fall at the first hurdle against Richard Gasquet.

Federer needs to beat Gasquet to break Bjorn Borg's record of 41 consecutive wins on grass, though the result is no foregone conclusion. The 20-year-old Frenchman would probably have been seeded but for an injury-troubled spring and has again emphasised his grass-court credentials by reaching today's final of the Red Letter Days Open at Nottingham against Jonas Bjorkman, having beaten Soderling in yesterday's semi-finals. Moreover, the world No 66 beat Federer on clay at Monte Carlo a year ago and took a set off him at Halle on grass earlier this month.

Henman can also take encouragement from past form against Federer. Of those current players who have met the world No 1 more than once, the 31-year-old Briton is one of only two (Nadal is the other) who have won more times than they have lost. However, the last of Henman's six victories came two years ago and he has lost all three of their subsequent meetings.

Reaching the semi-finals at Queen's Club last week underlined Henman's recent improvement as he tries to climb back up the world rankings. "I feel in very good shape," he said yesterday. "If I could get the opportunity to play Roger, then it would be fantastic, but first and foremost I have to worry about Soderling. He's dangerous."

Until he was beaten by Nadal in the final a fortnight ago the player who gave Federer most trouble at the French Open was the Olympic champion, Nicolas Massu, who took a set off him in the third round. The 26-year-old is seeded No 31 at Wimbledon and his first-round opponent will be Murray.

The Chilean, however, is a clay-court specialist who has never been beyond the third round, while Murray, with his performances at Nottingham this week and at Queen's Club and Wimbledon a year ago, has proved he can perform on grass. Murray's next opponent would be Bjorn Phau or Julien Benneteau, while the awesome figure of Andy Roddick, runner-up for the past two years, is likely to stand in his path in the third round.

Rusedski faces a former world No 1 in Russia's Marat Safin, who has been trying in vain after a lengthy lay-off to recapture the form that brought him the Australian Open title only 18 months ago. The winner is likely to face Fernando Gonzalez, the hard-hitting world No 10.

Martina Hingis, returning to Wimbledon for the first time since 2001, looks to have a fairly comfortable passage until the quarter-finals, where she could face Justine Henin-Hardenne, the French Open champion. Henin-Hardenne, who reached a Wimbledon final and two semi-finals in successive years from 2001, defeated Kim Clijsters, her fellow Belgian, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Hastings Direct International Championships at Eastbourne yesterday. In the final today she will meet the Russian Anastasia Myskina, who defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Several of the leading women have tricky first-round draws. Clijsters faces Russia's Vera Zvonareva, who won at Edgbaston last weekend; Maria Sharapova meets Israel's Anna Smashnova; and Elena Dementieva is up against India's Sania Mirza. Nadia Petrova, the No 5 seed, has pulled out of the tournament with a groin injury.

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