Wimbledon '97: Rusedski rolling but Henman must wait

WIMBLEDON '97: Britain's No 2 reaches Grand Slam quarter-final for first time as No 1 rocks the defending champion
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The Independent Online
To be continued...

Tim Henman led the defending champion, Richard Krajicek, by two sets to one overnight after Greg Rusedski had guaranteed that his adoptive Britain would be represented in the men's singles quarter-finals for a second consecutive year.

Should Henman complete the splendid work which was interrupted by twilight, he would become the first Briton to eliminate a defending champion since Roger Taylor defeated Rod Laver in four sets in the fourth round in 1970.

Moreover, the nation would boast two men in the last eight for the first time since 1961, when Mike Sangster and Bobby Wilson were the standard bearers. Henman, the No 14 seed, advanced to the quarter-finals a year ago, when he was defeated by the American Todd Martin.

Rusedski is one of five unseeded players through to the quarter-finals, and two unseeded players are certain to appear in the last four. The Canadian- born British No 2 added to America's woe by defeating Richey Reneberg, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6, and now plays the experienced Frenchman Cedric Pioline.

Henman was involved in three tie-breaks, winning the first, 9-7, losing the second, 7-9, and winning the third, 7-5. Given a fraction better luck and judgement, the 22-year-old from Oxford might already be preparing for a quarter-final against Germany's Michael Stich, the 1991 champion.

Having created a set point at 7-6 in the second set tie-break, Henman did not quite serve with sufficient accuracy to Krajicek's backhand, and the Dutchman took two steps and passed his opponent with a forehand down the line.

After clinching the tie-break and breaking Henman for 2-1 in the third set, Krajicek appeared to become preoccupied with the fading light. His appeals were refused by the Portuguese umpire, George Dias, and Henman was able to break back to 3-3. The Briton clinched the tie-break - with a service winner to the backhand.

Rusedski was far happier at his work than during Saturday's second-round match against another American, Jonathan Stark. Worried then by a niggling back injury, Rusedski vented his frustrations on the umpire after a disputed call.

Sunday's straight-sets victory against Andrew Richardson, a compatriot, set the tone for yesterday's performance. "I think I was better focused," Rusedski said.

Rusedski barely had time to loosen his left arm before drizzle forced the players back to the locker-room for 17 minutes, after which the British No 2's serving was as relentless as Friday's rain.

He hit 32 aces, a total of 61 service winners, and won 90 per cent of the points on his first deliveries. His volleys were pretty fair, too, 15 of them producing winners.

Although Reneberg managed to save the solitary break-point in the opening set, improvising a defensive drop-volley in the sixth game, he was overwhelmed in the tie-break, 7-2, feeding Rusedski encouragement he scarcely required by double-faulting to 1-5.

An impressive return by Rusedski tilted the second set his way on his second break point at 2-2, and he secured a two-set lead after 74 minutes with an ace on the first set point.

Reneberg might have begun to despair of ever cracking the Rusedski serve after being bamboozled by three aces and a service winner in the fourth game of the third set, by which time a similarity in the pattern of points may have lulled some spectators into a midday slumber.

The only time Rusedski appeared to be in the remotest danger of being extended beyond straight sets was when he was taken to deuce at 5-6, Reneberg reading a second serve to his backhand and driving it across the court. He then netted a return and scarcely saw the ace with which Rusedski guaranteed a second tie-break.

Reneberg missed a forehand to put his opponent at 5-4 with two serves to come. The American returned one of them over the baseline, Rusedski finishing the job on the first match point with an ace off a second serve.

This was greeted by an explosion of cheering, Union Jacks of various sizes materialising as it dawned on the crowd that another Brit had become a member of the Last Eight Club.

Had Rusedski noticed the empty seats early in the match? "I didn't really," he said. "The crowd that came to watch the match were terrific. They were very supportive. And, I mean, it's lunch hour, 12 noon, so I guess they're off to lunch." Some might even be out to lunch if the success story continues.

"I'm very pleased to be in the quarter-finals, but I don't want to stop here," Rusedski said. "This, hopefully, is just the beginning."

Boris Becker, defeated the Chilean Marcelo Rios, seeded one place below him at No 9, to head a trio of victorious Germans into the last eight. The other two are unseeded. Stich we know. He defeated Becker to win the title in 1991.

The other one, Nicolas Kiefer, we are likely to learn much more about as time goes by. Due to celebrate his 20th birthday on Saturday, and ranked No 98 in the world, he eliminated the third-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 6-2, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1.

Two years ago, Kiefer was the runner-up in the junior singles. Two weeks ago he played Kafelnikov for the first time, on a grass court at Halle, and was beaten, 7-6, 7-6.

Yesterday, the Russian found himself two sets in arrears before he was able to make an impression. Kiefer, unlike Tim Henman in the first round last year, did not allow Kafelnikov's prospects of a revival to linger much longer than the third set.

Kiefer's reward is a quarter-final against Australia's Todd Woodbridge, who defeated a compatriot, the 12th-seeded Pat Rafter, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3.

Stich, who is playing his last Grand Slam tournament, defeated Australia's Mark Woodforde, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.

More reports,

Results, page 30