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August 31, 2006 3:00 am

Comfortable victory for Henman

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Tim Henman on Wednesday night won what may be his final duel with fellow Briton Greg Rusedski, in the US Open first round - and now faces defending champion Roger Federer. Rusedski, who is contemplating retirement, had lost to Henman in their past six meetings and he was second best again, losing 7-6 (7/4) 6-2 6-3.

He did race to a 3-0 lead in the first set but Henman hit back to level and they traded services games until Henman won the tie break 7-4. In the second set, Hen- man matched Rusedski's earlier achievement of winning the opening three games but held his nerve, and broke at 4-3 in the third to seal a comfortable win.

Both refused to be drawn on whether Henman's victory would be the last time the pair will meet.

Henman's clash with Federer is a repeat of their second-round match at Wimbledon, which the world number one came through with ease. Asked how he could beat the Swiss, Henman said: "I just have to play better."

Second seed Rafael Nadal made an impressive start to his title bid when he beat former runner-up Mark Philippoussis 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the first round.

In the women's event, top seed Amelie Mauresmo reached the second round when she defeated German qualifier Kristina Barrois 6-1 7-5. After the rain delays of Tuesday, the Wimbledon champion resumed a set up but 5-2 down in the second to the world number 131.

Certainly there was little in their batting to suggest a change of fortunes and, until the heavy drizzle arrived, Pakistan seemed to be on their way to a comfortable victory. They had been set 159 to win in 32 overs after losing 105 minutes to rain at the resumption, and had reached 46 for 1 from seven when the bad weather returned - 17 ahead of the par Duckworth-Lewis score.

Whether they should have come out at all is debatable. With the outfield clearly wet, Ian Bell slipped in chasing Mohammed Hafeez's straight drive off the first delivery of the innings and both Darren Gough and Stuart Broad struggled to control a slippery ball. The match was finally put out of its misery at 9.30pm which, with Pakistan still 13 overs short of the 20 they needed to face to produce a result, earned England a reprieve their play had barely deserved.

As in the Twenty20 game at Bristol, their batting never recovered from the loss of early wickets. Bell made an ODI-best of 88 to push the innings along to 202 all out, but once he had been run out by a direct hit from Shahid Afridi the rot set in. In the space of five overs England slumped from 166 for 4 to 173 for 9, the result partly of some quick, straight bowling from Shoaib Akhtar and partly of some poor batting. Jamie Dalrymple, again called on to try to dig England out of a crisis, was the only other batsman to reach 20.

Mohammad Asif was the pick of the Pakistan attack, taking three for 28 in his 10 overs. Among them was Kevin Pietersen, who is in danger of becoming his rabbit. Having bowled him first ball both at The Oval and Bristol, he picked him up for just two yesterday, unsettling him with a bouncer before inducing a nick from a ball that left him off the pitch.

Given the conditions, judging the England bowling is impractical, but Broad maintained the good impression of Bristol, pinning Shoaib Malik lbw with his fourth legitimate ball in ODIs.

*GOLF Darren Clarke has asked Europe's Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam to consider him for a wild card for next month's contest at the K Club.

The Ulsterman has not played since the Open Championship at Hoylake in July in order to be with his seriously ill wife Heather, who died on August 13. That meant that Clarke did not qualify automatically for the team but he could yet make a surprise appearance in Dublin from September 22 to 24.

Thursday sees the start of the final counting event, the BMW International Open in Munich, and before announcing his two wild cards, Woosnam needs to know who are the 10 to qualify automatically.

Seven are certain: Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Casey, David Howell, uncapped Swedes Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, and Luke Donald.

Jose Maria Olazabal and Dubliners Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley - desperate to play in the first Ryder Cup on Irish soil - are in position to join them but Paul Broadhurst, Johan Edfors, John Bickerton and Thomas Bjorn could yet climb into the top 10.

*FOOTBALL Ben Thatcher has been banned for six matches, two suspended, and fined six weeks' wages by Manchester City following his horrific challenge on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes last week.

City's action could persuade the Football Association to drop any further action against the defender who was charged with serious foul play.

He has been given until September 12 to respond to the FA charge after which a date will be set for a disciplinary hearing.

Middlesbrough have completed the double signing of defenders Jonathan Woodgate and Robert Huth. Real Madrid and England centre-half Woodgate, 26, has moved to the Riverside on a season's loan with the option of making the deal permanent. German international Huth, 22, has signed a five-year contract after completing a £6m switch from Chelsea.

Celtic have signed Thomas Gravesen, 30, from Real Madrid on a three-year contract believed to be worth about £2m.

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