Improved Henman reaps reward of a good year

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The Independent Online
Tim Henman, the defending champion, took just 50 minutes to win his opening match at the Guardian Direct British National Championships here yesterday, beating qualifier Gregg Saffery of Berkshire 6-4, 6-2 in the first round.

The 22-year-old British No 1 said: "I'm a lot better player than I was a year ago. I can dominate a lot more with my service and that is very important on the ATP Tour. I'm also much better confidence-wise and experience- wise.

"I have had so many good moments this year and as the season is coming to a close you have time to reflect on them. Everything happened so much quicker than I expected.

"At the start of the year I was hoping to get into the top 50 and I knew it would be tough to achieve. But to break into the top 30 is very satisfying. I made six semi-finals this year and that makes it very exciting for next year. Now I have to try and do even better."

Henman was not expected to win the national title last year when Greg Rusedski was then Britain's top player. Rusedski won the first set in the final but Henman hit back strongly to take the last two sets. This year Henman is the undoubted favourite though Rusedski, who did not play yesterday, has been in superb form in the past few weeks. Henman revealed after his match with Saffery that he intends to play doubles next year with Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands.

Jeremy Bates, the six-times champion but playing this year "only for fun", was serious enough to beat the left-hander David Draper 6-4, 6-4 in his first-round match.

Bates has played only one tournament since Wimbledon when he retired from the ATP Tour. "That was in an over-35 tournament in Germany," he explained, "and I won it. I'm not 35 until next June but for some reason I didn't understand I was eligible to play in Germany after 1 October and it was fun.

"This, however, is my last appearance in the Nationals. It's a one-off. I have no aspirations this week but I thought I would like to play just once more because it is such a good tournament."

Bates, however, could win one title for he is playing doubles with Henman, with whom he won the event last year. Henman was expected to play with Neil Broad after their Olympic success but Broad was not available. "Tim asked me to play," Bates said. "I thought he was joking but it's good that he supports both singles and doubles."

In the women's singles the big shock was Lorna Woodroffe's 6-4, 6-4 victory over the second seed Rachel Viollet, the British No 2, in the first round. Woodroffe, 20, broke in the first game to take the first set and then led 5-1 in the second. Viollet made her last stand by winning three successive games before the Surrey player took the 10th game for victory. Earlier Abigail Tordoff, the 17-year-old from Kent, led Sam Smith 6-2, 5-4 before the top seed from Essex fought back to win 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Results, Digest, page 25

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