Tim Henman came close to achieving one of the most important and stylish victories of his career in the quarter-finals of the Ericsson Open against Andre Agassi here yesterday, before losing to the world No 1, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6. Henman held four match points in a final set tie-break only to lose the shoot-out 12-10.
Henman had defeated Agassi once before, indoors in Basle, Switzerland, but this would have been a more exhilarating success given that it was in the latter stages of a Tennis Masters event. Henman's double-faults, sprinkled at critical times, spoiled his endeavour. The last, and most damaging came on his third match point in the tie-break. Henman won the majority of the points - 117 to 114 - and produced 48 winners to Agassi's 39. But he also delivered 42 unforced errors, including the double-faults.
"It's very disappointing," Henman said. "I played a good match but at this level it's about winning and losing."
Agassi may even have imagined that he had Henman's measure after a double-fault gifted the Las Vegan a break for 3-4 in the opening set. Henman's response was an excellent return game in which he retrieved the break to love. Moreover, he also won the next four points to lead, 5-4, only to lapse in his next service game, netting a forehand half-volley on the second break point.
Even then, Agassi was fortunate to serve out the set on his third set point after 51 minutes after Henman had pushed him on almost every point.
Henman surprised Agassi with the sustained quality of his play in the second set, which lasted only 32 minutes. Henman took a 5-0 lead, and in the next game Agassi faced the first set points against his name. Henman missed a service return of the first and Agassi saved the second with a forehand drive.
No matter. Henman served out the set to 15 in the next game, hitting an ace at 124mph to create a third set point. Agassi then hit a forehandreturn wide.
Henman saved five break points in the final set before breaking for 4-3. This time an Agassi double-fault on the fourth break point was decisive. Henman saved two more break points in the eighth game, but was broken for 5-5 and the contest went to a tie-break.
Henman reached match point at 6-5 in the shoot-out, but on this occasion his forehand was unable to produce a winning volley. Agassi had a match point at 7-6, which Henman saved with a second serve. The American saved a second match point with a cross-court backhand and Henman then double-faulted for the 11th time, on his third match point at 9-8. Agassi saved a fourth match point with a faded forehand drive and ruined Henman's day by hitting a backhand cross-court winner on his second match point.
"I was fortunate to get back into that one and win it," Agassi said. "To win a match like that makes you feel kind of proud."
Greg Rusedski's participation ended on Tuesday night, when he was defeated in the quarter-finals by Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, 6-3, 6-3.
Sampras defeated Rusedski for the second time in a month and for the eighth time in their nine matches. The American was too sharp for Rusedski on the night. "He was too good," Rusedski said. "For about a set and a half, I don't think anybody would have beaten him. I think that's the best he's played against me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
"He was serving the corners extremely well. He returned very well and hit some great passing shots. That's why he's considered the best, or one of the best, ever to play the game. You don't win six Wimbledons by fluke, or end six years at No 1. You've got to do something right. Whenever I served really hard, he seemed to block it in my feet. When I got broken in the seventh game, I had three half-volleys at the bottom of my feet."
Sampras, free of pain in his lower back and rid of the queasy stomach that effected his performance in the previous round, agreed that he had played as well as he could.
"When you play someone like Greg, who's got such a big game, you can't play any loose shots," he said. "I got my game going. The conditions were very heavy, so I felt I had a little more time to play against him. It was hard to hit through the court, hard to hit aces. I made him play by putting such a lot of pressure on him early on."
Rusedski, still getting into his stride having missed the start of the season after foot surgery, said: "I think I'm going in the right direction. I got more aggressive in the second set. I think at some stages I played really well."
Henman has been named chairman of the ATP Tour Charities for 2000 in succession to Goran Ivanisevic. As part of his new role, Henman will donate £100 for every ace he serves this year, and the sum will be matched by the ATP Tour Charities.
All the funds raised will go to Henman's specially designated charity, the Sir Malcolm Sargent Cancer Care for Children. Cancer claimed the lives of two of Henman's relatives.
"I look forward to taking on this responsibility, and I think it is a great honour to help in an area I feel very strongly about."
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