Mind game gets better of Henman

Tennis
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The Independent Online
Tennis

If recognising his own inconsistency when faced with the sport's leading men will be of long-term benefit to Tim Henman then the Briton's 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 defeat by Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden, yesterday will have not been a complete disappointment.

The 21-year-old's lacklustre display in the second round of the Australian Open at Melbourne contrasted sharply with his stirring opening victory over Petr Korda. Henman was expected to make Bjorkman work hard for victory at the very least, having swept aside the world No 26 in four sets.

Henman, however, never approached Monday's heights, holding only one of his first seven service games and succumbing to defeat in only 87 minutes. Despite his poor showing, Henman was far from discouraged, and declared that his lapse in form could be attributed in part to his mental attitude when meeting the sport's top players.

"I think I must now improve my consistency against top-ranked players," Henman conceded. "I know I can play one good match, but after playing one I need to play a second. At least I've recognised the problem."

Andre Agassi, who nearly limped out of the tournament on Monday, found his stride to skip confidently past Vince Spadea in straight sets. The world No 2, now without strapping on his inflamed right knee, started uncertainly but grew in confidence as he brushed aside any doubts about the injury.

The only blemish on his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory came in the sixth game of the third set when he was given a code violation for verbal abuse after problems with his serve allowed Spadea to pull back from 40-15 down. Agassi, however, regained his composure to take the game after Spadea wasted two break points, and reeled off the next three games to take the match in just under two hours.

Agassi, who injured his knee when he fell down a staircase at his hotel, struggled for mobility in his five-set battle with the unknown Argentinian qualifier Gaston Etlis on Monday. But the Las Vegan confirmed after his victory over Spadea that his knee had responded to treatment. "It is definitely a lot better today than it was, and I was moving close to par," Agassi said. "By the next match it should be 100 per cent."

Agassi's warm reception at the end of his match was nothing compared with the standing ovation earlier afforded Stefan Edberg, who bowed out of the event for the last time. Despite the passionate support of a packed court, the Swede, who has twice won the Open and will retire at the end of this year, was beaten in a five-set second round duel by the French qualifier, Jean-Philippe Fleurian.

Agassi's victory completed a successful day for the Americans. Of the seeds, Michael Chang defeated Jakob Hlasek in straight sets, while the unseeded Patrick McEnroe recovered a two-set deficit to beat the 14th seed, Andrei Medvedev. They were joined by the 15th seed, Todd Martin, and Jim Courier, the eighth, who beat Jeff Tarango.

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