Lee's feat keeps Henman company

Tennis

On the day that Tim Henman reached the third round of a tournament for the first time in nearly four months, his thunder was stolen by a Briton three years his junior for whom playing in any round of a senior tournament is something of a novelty.

Martin Lee is 19, supports Millwall, and sports a yellow and blue shirt that gives football kit manufacturers a bad name. If you saw him in the street you might think he was a callow teenager who looked at the ground too much. But the Londoner was the best young player in the world a year ago, has a brilliant natural talent, and after a period of adjustment is using the Stella Artois Championships to announce it to his elders, but not necessarily betters. On Monday he beat Andrei Olhovskiy, the Russian grass-court specialist who is ranked 354 places above him at 146. That victory was Lee's best for precisely 24 hours, because he yesterday dispatched the American Alex O'Brien, the world No 34, to claim an unlikely place in the third round. Much more of this and Henman and Greg Rusedski may soon have another Briton joining them in the game's upper reaches.

As has become his custom, Lee indulged in the sophisticated psychological ploy of dropping the first set against O'Brien, though yesterday's 6-3 reverse was hardly in Monday's 6-0 class in the false sense of security stakes. O'Brien, for whom the word solid summed up his appearance and his game, took the set gratefully, vociferously supported by a small group in the front row for whom there appears to be a small corner of a foreign field that will be forever Texas.

Lee responded by breaking O'Brien in the first game of the second set, but was immediately broken back, and while the left-hander displayed a far greater range of shots, O'Brien's experience prevented a second breakthrough. The crucial moment came with Lee trailing 0-30 at 5-5 when the umpire overruled a line call which would have granted the American three break points. O'Brien was infuriated, but Lee kept his cool and won the next four points. "That really geed me up," Lee said. And he went on to win the tie-break.

After another exchange of breaks in the final set, Lee, who like just about every other British tennis player these days looks like he could do with a square meal or two, made a decisive move at 4-4 when a lovely running backhand converted his third break point. He served out comfortably and his 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory was greeted with raucous applause on Court One, though O'Brien left still complaining bitterly about the overrule.

"I'm getting mentally tougher," Lee said. "In quite a lot of matches I've been very close and lost 6-4 in the third. But I felt very confident today."

Henman was one of many fellow countrymen impressed by Lee's performances this week. "They show a lot of character. This is a breakthrough for him," he said.

Having begun the week with 46 points, Lee will soar up the rankings having already gained another 34 here. His next opponent is likely to be Goran Ivanisevic, against whom Henman had just one piece of advice: "Hold your own serve."

Henman himself adopted the Lee route to victory, dropping the first set before beating Andrew Richardson 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. It was a welcome return to form for the 22-year-old who has struggled since his elbow injury, losing three out of four matches on clay.

In his fellow Briton, Henman knew he faced an opponent who knew his game intimately from the hours the two have spent on the practice court together. They are old friends, and even ate together beforehand, but once the match started neither betrayed any sign of undue amiability. "Out there, it's business," Henman said.

Business went Richardson's way early on but once Henman had adapted to the blustery conditions his sharper volleying brought a comfortable victory. With Henman and Lee through Briton had two players in the third round for the first time in the history of these championships.

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