TIM HENMAN took another step towards his goal of a first Grand Slam title yesterday, but Julie Pullin, the lone Briton in the women's draw at the Australian Open, was bundled out of the tournament after coming tantalisingly close to joining him in the third round.
The British No 1 had psyched himself up to play Rainer Schuttler, who has given him grief in the past, most notably in the final at Doha last year. But midway through the second set, the German, who had received courtside treatment for a stomach-muscle injury, announced that he was throwing in the towel after less than an hour's play.
Henman, who had taken the first set 6-2 and was leading 4-1 in the second, will play Sebastien Grosjean tomorrow for a place in the last 16. He beat the 21-year-old Frenchman in four sets en route to the Wimbledon semi- finals last summer, but is anticipating a tough encounter here. "He's got loads of ability and is a dangerous player," he said of Grosjean yesterday.
Henman, seeded 11th, feels on a roll and would have preferred to play his way into the third round. "It's unfortunate for him [Schuttler], and it's not the ideal way to get through, but I'm not going to complain," he said.
Schuttler's withdrawal gave the 25-year-old a chance for a much- needed rest; his opening-round four-setter against the Frenchman Jerome Golmard had left him "a little bit sore", he admitted. Henman, destined to meet Pete Sampras in the semi-final next week if he progresses that far, said of his current form: "I've played better tennis before, but it's the overall improvement from the end of last year that I'm pleased about."
It would have taken a stony heart not to commiserate with the 24- year- old Pullin, who suffered an agonising 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 defeat at the hands of Yi Jing-qian, of China. Ranked 174 in the world to Yi's 137, Pullin had won their only previous match in 1997 and let slip a match point at 6-5 in the third set.
Close to tears, she said afterwards: "I'm very disappointed, really gutted. It could so easily have gone the other way. I wish things could have been different."
Pullin, from Hove, Sussex, British champion two years ago, won her first Grand Slam match against the American Jane Chi on Monday. …