Henman raises hopes by downing Bjorkman

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The Independent Online
Tim Henman has Pete Sampras in his sights after an uplifting straight- sets victory for himself and British tennis in the Nottingham Open yesterday.

The 20-year-old Oxford player, who broke his leg nine months ago, defeated the No 2 seed Jonas Bjorkman 7-6, 7-5 in a first-round triumph to stop the familiar rot of five home men crashing out early.

Only last week, the slimly built Henman eclipsed the world's 49th-ranked Martin Sinner of Germany at the Stella Artois tournament.

Yesterday success came just hours after Henman learned he will meet Sampras at Wimbledon next week - provided he removes Kenya's Paul Wekese in his opening round and Sampras does not slip up against Karsten Braasch of Germany.

"I've played Sampras before," Henman said. "In Tokyo in September and I came second - nearly third. It was 1-6, 2-6 actually. I've practised a bit with him and it wouldn't frighten me to play him again."

Henman will climb into the world's top 200 after his win against Bjorkman, ranked 22. "It has to be my best victory," he said, "because Jonas is the highest-ranked player I've beaten." He certainly coped with the conditions far better than the Swede, who took only six points off the Briton's serve in the entire first set which went to a tie-break, Henman slipping back from a 5-2 lead but finally taking it 9-7.

Two early breaks in the second set put him on his way and although Bjorkman broke back, Henman regaied his poise for a third service-break to clinch it.

Jeremy Bates went out to the No 4 seed Alexander Volkov, going down. 7-5, 7-5. "I don't feel well. I'm absolutely exhausted," he said.

Jimmy Connors, 42, the Wimbledon champion in 1974 and 1982, returned to the ATP Tour for the first time for more than a year yesterday and beat the Canadian Sebastien Lareau 6-4, 7-6 in the first round of the Gerry Weber Open grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany.