Henman has to set new goal

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The Independent Online
However he performs in the Australian Open over the next fortnight, Tim Henman knows he has truly arrived as a major force in tennis. The 22-year-old Briton is expected to reach No 14 in the world, his highest position yet, when the rankings are announced today following his victory in the final of the Sydney International.

Having reached his first ATP final the previous weekend in Doha, where he lost to Jim Courier, the British No 1 went one better with his comfortable victory over the Spaniard Carlos Moya on Saturday.

As he prepared for his first match in this year's Australian Open, which was due to be played in the early hours of this morning, Henman knew the biggest threat to his progress was complacency. Having initially been given a tough draw in the first round against the big-serving Mark Philippoussis, Henman learned yesterday that the Australian had withdrawn with an arm injury and had been replaced by Andre Pavel of Romania, a "lucky loser" from the qualifying competition. Pavel is ranked No 135 in the world.

The late withdrawal of Philippoussis was a setback for the organisers. The 20-year-old, who has one of the fastest serves in the world, is a local hero and his meeting with Henman had been eagerly anticipated. He had dropped out of the Sydney International to rest the injury in the hope of being fit to play here.

Philippoussis, ranked 29 in the world, said: "I am bitterly disappointed. This is not the best start of the year for me. I have to look to the future as I'm only 20 years old and I have to take care of myself.

"The arm felt as if it was coming along well until yesterday, when there was a bit of pain. I was hitting this morning and it started getting worse and I was unable to serve 100 per cent and it started aching. I had no strength in my arm and I was advised that I would have to pull out."

Henman went into today's first-round encounter knowing that victory in his first two matches here would put him on course for a meeting with the world No 2 and second seed, Michael Chang. The American, a finalist here last year, was due to meet Belgium's Kris Goossens in the first round.

Saturday's 6-3, 6-1 victory over Moya meant that Henman became the first Briton to win the Sydney men's singles title since 1902. It also meant that within the space of little more than a week he had realised two of his main ambitions for the year.

Henman said: "I've achieved my first two goals for 1997 of reaching an ATP final and then winning a tournament. I like to set myself targets and now I want to break into the top 10 and do well in the Grand Slams."

Henman, who knocked out the world No 3 Goran Ivanisevic in the Sydney semi-finals, received a glowing tribute from David Lloyd after his victory over Moya. Britain's Davis Cup coach hailed an "exceptional" performance from his leading player.

"It is great for British tennis and great for Tim himself because it was his first tournament win and he has played exceptionally well," he said. "He demolished Moya in the second set. He overwhelmed him - it was a great performance.

"Confidence-wise he is at the top of his game right now. When you're confident and believe in yourself all the other things like jet-lag, you forget. At the moment he is really on a high and he could be going up to 14th in the world, which is the highest for a British player in many, many years."

Henman suffered an early break of serve in the third game of the final but broke back in the next and was rarely troubled again. In the blustery conditions Moya's powerful forehand was often erratic and Henman took full advantage with deep approaches which allowed him to get to the net and constantly put pressure on his opponent, who was swept away in the second set.

"I had to keep moving forward," Henman said. "Carlos hits the ball very well from the baseline so I had to keep long rallies to a minimum. I kept moving forward and managed to take my opportunities."

Henman admitted his start to the year had been unreal. "It's the sort of start I couldn't have dreamed of," he said. "But I'm happy with the way I'm playing."

Such has been the focus on Henman that Britain's other leading player, Greg Rusedski, has been largely forgotten. The draw was not kind to him, however, a first-round meeting with the 14th seed, Felix Mantilla of Spain, providing a real test. Last year Rusedski was beaten in the opening round by the eventual winner, Boris Becker.

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