Henman faces hard work

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The Independent Online
If Magnus Gustafsson finds the Centre Court crowd a little too boisterous in support of Britain's Tim Henman this afternoon, he might try distracting them with his party piece, the Swedish balloon dance.

A native of Lund, the 29-year-old Gustafsson followed the Bjorn Borg trail to make his home in Monte Carlo, and it was during a players' cabaret at the tournament there that he got his act together on stage with a couple of compatriots, Magnus Larsson and Nicklas Kulti. They performed the dance "nude, with clothes", using the balloons to avoid code violations.

It is possible that the All England Club would raise objections, even if the balloons were predominantly white or high visibility yellow, so Gustafsson will have to consider other options. He has already tried flattery, saying Henman's style reminds him a little of Pete Sampras, although he was careful to qualify the remark: "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think he's ready yet to be among the really best, but he's definitely on his way, and he will make it for sure."

While not wishing to appear blase, we are accustomed to seeing British men play on the Monday. This marks the fifth year in a row that the nation has been represented in the fourth round. The hope is that Henman will fare better against Gustafsson than Jeremy Bates did twice against Guy Forget, and Andrew Foster and Greg Rusedski did - understandably - against Sampras.

Having been reminded that Henman and Luke Milligan were the first British men to play each other on the Centre Court since Bunny Austin defeated Eric Filby in the first round in 1938, the name Roger Taylor now springs to mind. The gutsy Yorkshireman was the last British quarter finalist, in 1973, the year of the ATP boycott. He defeated Bob McKinley in the fourth round, the 17-year-old Borg in the quarters, 7-5 in the fifth set, and in the semi-finals lost to the Czech Jan Kodes, the eventual champion, 7-5 in the fifth set.

Taylor also reached the last four in 1970, eliminating Rod Laver in the fourth round, the Australian having accomplished the Grand Slam for the second time the previous year. Taylor defeated the American Clark Graebner in the quarters and lost to Ken Rosewall in the semis.

After glancing through that segment of Taylor's CV, it might be wise to heed Gustafsson's comments concerning Henman, as well as those by Michael Stich, the 1991 champion, and Todd Martin, the only seed left in the lower half of the draw.

"Henman's a very good player," Stich said, "but leave him alone a little bit, don't put too much pressure on his shoulders, because otherwise he's not going to be able to deal with it."

"I think he's going to be a great player," Martin said. "And I hope that people don't put the type of pressure on him that they have in the past on other players, and that you do on your football teams." Martin, the No 13 seed, will stand between Henman or Gustafsson in the quarter-finals, provided the Amer- ican survives against Sweden's Thomas Johansson, ranked No 106, who has advanced to the last 16 on his first visit.

Gustafsson, while vastly more experienced than his opponent, does have a few things in common with Henman. Neither has advanced beyond the second round before, both have beaten the Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov this year - Henman spectacularly in the opening round here, Gustafsson indoors in the St Petersberg final in March - and both have recovered from serious injuries.

Henman's career was disrupted when he broke an ankle in the autumn of 1994, around the time Gustafsson required surgery to repair a damaged shoulder which kept him out of the game for almost a year. When the Swede returned, in May 1995, his ranking had dropped from the top 20 to No 611 in the world. It is now 37 and climbing.

Although the shoulder is no longer a problem, Gustafsson said that he did feel the odd twinge during Saturday's five-set win against the No 11 seed, Wayne Ferreira, "because the balls were so heavy". As was the case last year, slightly depressurised balls are being used at the championships in an attempt to curb the power in the men's game. Players only seem to notice the difference in cold conditions, and the weather on Friday and Saturday were in marked contrast to last year's heatwave. "Many players in the locker-room are saying the balls are heavy," Gustafsson said.

Using clay-court tactics and playing his shots deep, and chiefly from the baseline, the Swede pulled himself round against Ferreira after losing a two sets to love lead. The result isolated Martin as the only remaining seed down below.

An unseeded semi-finalist is guaranteed to emerge from matches involving Paul Haarhuis, a 30-year-old Dutchman, and the American MaliVai Washington, and Neville Godwin, the South African who benefited from Boris Becker's wrist injury. Godwin now plays Alexandru Radulescu, a Romanian with a Ger- man passport, who must feel he knows the lawns almost as well as Becker, having spent nine and a half hours on them last week.

Last year, the top four seeds, men and women, survived for the semi-finals for the first time since seeding began in 1927: Agassi (1) v Becker (3), Sampras (2) v Ivanisevic (4); Graf (1) v Novotna (4); Sanchez Vicario (2) v Martinez (3). A repeat of the Sampras-Ivanisevic semi-final is possible, and we have the makings of a second consecutive women's final between Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Barring the daily upsets, of course.

Centre Court opens with a match between Graf, who is on course for a seventh singles title, the 20th in all Grand Slams, and the 15-year-old Martina Hingis. Although Graf dispatched the Swiss prodigy in the first round last year, Hingis is one of only two players to have beaten the German this season. That was on clay at the Italian Open in May, when Graf's mind appeared to be on matters away from the tennis court.

Not paying too much attention to Graf's knee injury, Hingis prefers to point out that her opponent's sliced backhand is more effective on grass than on clay. "On grass, of course, it's more difficult for me to win," she said.

"But I think I have a good chance. The girls have more chances now against her, and I think she sometimes makes more mistakes than she did before. I know the crowd is behind her, but I have nothing to lose."

Perhaps she has been studying Katarina Studenikova.

Saturday's results, page 23