Henman, Hewitt to meet in final

 

Tim Henman lost his cool but won his match to set up a repeat of the 2001 final in the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's.

The top Briton will play defending champion Lleyton Hewitt, the world number one, in tomorrow's decider after overcoming gritty opponent Raemon Sluiter 6-7 6-4 6-2 in a rain-hit semi-final that will be best remembered for an act of petulance by the normally ice-cool Henman.

A packed centre court crowd at Henman's home club in West Kensington witnessed a side of the British number one rarely seen in public as he vented his anger over an easy miss at the net.

Henman, who was beaten by Hewitt in last year's final, lost the first set and had a break point against the Dutchman in the second when he put a simple volley into the net and responded by slamming the ball into the crowd.

The act of petulance brought him a warning from umpire Fergus Murphy and clearly affected his concentration as he lost his next service game to love.

However, he quickly composed himself to break back straight away and took advantage of Sluiter's first double faults to level the match.

The patience of the second seed was then severely tested by an 80-minute rain delay before he returned to finish off the match and guarantee himself a pay cheque of at least #34,000.

Hewitt, who looks certain to be made top seed for Wimbledon, booked his place in the final with a straight-sets win over Holland's Sjeng Schalken.

It was his 14th straight win at Queen's, where he hopes to complete a hat-trick of victories, but he is expecting Henman to provide him with stern resistance, even though he currently leads their head-to-head contests by 4-0.

"It will be tough," said Hewitt. "He likes this time of year. There is a lot of pressure and expectations on him but he handles himself extremely well."

Hewitt, who has lost only one set in three years at Queen's, wore down his tough opponent in a first set dominated by a series of baseline rallies.

Schalken, 33 places below his opponent in the world rankings, made the more confident start, dropping just two points in his opening three service games.

But Hewitt was relentless and failed to offer his opponent a single break point before winning the tie-break 7-5.

The only time the Dutchman was troubled was in the seventh game when he called for a painkilling tablet to combat the effects of a sore ankle, but Hewitt clearly had the measure of his opponent at the start of the second set.

The big Dutchman was forced to save the first break points of the match in his first service game and, as the tide began to turn, Hewitt broke him to lead 3-1.

The rest of the set then went with serve and Hewitt's 13th ace gave him three match points and enabled him to wrap up a 7-6 6-3 victory.

Hewitt, who was on and off court in 85 minutes, was delighted with his latest preparation for Wimbledon, which starts in nine days.

"It was tough," he admitted. "The courts are a bit quicker and the wind was swirling and he played well.

"My game has got better and better this week. I would give myself seven or eight out of 10 at the moment.

"I've not dropped a set all week so that's perfect preparation for Wimbledon. I've had four tough matches so far and I will have to play even better tomorrow."

Hewitt, who has his sights on a 15th singles title at the tender age of 21, is also happy to continue playing from the back of the court.

"If I'm returning well and hitting the ball well from the baseline, I don't need to come to the net," he said.

PA