Friday, August 13, 1999

Henman, Kafelnikov: Different strokes




BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Tim Henman has a nation hanging on his racket strings, a great weight to lug onto a tennis court. Yevgeny Kafelnikov has only one man.

        Those disparate fan factors clash in a Great American Insurance ATP Championship quarterfinal today. Arriving from different directions, these men now share billing on the bubble of tennis greatness, each within range of a future No.1 ranking.

THE SKINNY
  • Kafelnikov vs. Henman, 11 a.m.
  • Series: Kafelnikov leads 7-3.
  • Last meeting: Kafelnikov won 6-2, 7-6 in February in The Netherlands.
  • Fun fact: Kafelnikov is making his fourth consecutive quarterfinal appearance here.
        Kafelnikov, the fourth seed, beat Chris Woodruff 6-4, 6-4 Thursday. Henman, seeded fifth, beat 12th seed Nicolas Kiefer 6-4, 6-1. Both men have endured sizeable slumps this year only to regain top form.

        “He had a bad spell, and so did I,” Henman said. “It happens to the best of us. If you struggle with your confidence, it's a difficult time.”

        This is where the similarities cease.

        Kafelnikov, 25, has spent most of the last five years in the top 10, peaking at No.1 in April; he's No.2 now. He has won 19 tournaments and more than $13 million. He is well-known in Russia, yet his preference for privacy has made him a loner.

        Henman, 24, just reached the top 10 for the first time last year and has a career-best No.5 ranking. He has four career titles and $4 million in earnings. In his native England, starved for tennis champions, fans hang on his every move — evidenced by the two English journalists covering him here this week.

        “It's a topic that's talked about because (the British) have had such a poor run in, oh, the last thousand years,” Henman said. “When I was younger, I think I was perhaps a little intent to prove people wrong. But I think with the results I've had, I've done that.”

        Kafelnikov's career has rebounded in large part because of Larry Stefanki, whom he hired as coach in January. ATP Tour officials say Stefanki, who last year helped Marcelo Rios to No.1, is the only coach to have ever led two players to the top ranking.

        “I'm the kind of player who likes to play for someone,” Kafelnikov said. “When he watches me play, I know there's someone in the crowd who really supports me. That's what makes a big difference.”

        Stefanki's influence was immediate, as Kafelnikov won the Australian Open in late January. That helped get him to No.1, and though he slumped through seven consecutive tournament losses, Kafelnikov has rebounded.

        “I was looking for a friend” in hiring Stefanki, Kafelnikov said. “He kept motivating me. I felt I was missing that in the past.” Henman went 11-13 — including four straight losses — during one slide this year, and he had lost three straight matches before this event. He has played his way back into shape here.

        Kafelnikov leads the head-to-head series 7-3 and has won the last two meetings, though Henman won the last two times they played on hard courts.

        Said Henman: “We know each other's games pretty well. There won't be any surprises.”

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