Silver reward for Henman and Broad

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The Independent Online
Given that British tennis has been an unremitting nightmare for the best part of 60 years it had come as something of a surprise to find that we might have a dream team of our own. As it happened they turned out to be a silver snooze.

History was hardly on Neil Broad and Tim Henman's side yesterday as it was 76 years since Britain won a gold medal on an Olympic court, and they conformed to precedent going down 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.

A scratch pair, who had played together only once before pitching up at Atlanta, the Britons were undone by the best men's doubles team in the world. Still, in a Games where the country has not excelled, a silver in tennis, of all sports, was a wonderful bonus. The last time this much was achieved was in 1924 when Kitty McKane and Phyllis Covell were runners- up in the women's doubles.

Just a look at the CVs of the respective partnerships was enough to see how the match was likely to go. Woodbridge and Woodforde have won Wimbledon the last four times, Henman and Broad had not won a bean together. It looked a mismatch on paper and was barely less so in practice.

Broad's serve had been a source of strength in the quarter and semi-finals but yesterday it was preyed upon by the Australians. In the first set he succumbed in the seventh game, in the second he was broken to 30 in the fifth.

By contrast Woodbridge and Woodforde were taken to deuce only once on their own serve - the second game of the match - and once that mini-crisis had been solved they were never threatened. When Henman, hitherto impregnable with the ball in his hand, lost the first game of the third set it was merely a question of time before the Australians became Olympic champions. The end arrived after 1hr 41min.

Marc Rosset four years ago, now Lindsay Davenport. You cannot say the Olympic Games goes for the obvious when it comes to its tennis champions. Yesterday the unusual was wrapped in the stars and stripes.

Davenport, an American who has not made it past the quarter-finals in a Grand Slam tournament, defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the women's singles final. She struck gold when most were surprised she was even close to the silver.

A deserved victory it was, repeating Jennifer Capriati's triumph for the United States four years ago. Sanchez Vicario is a great retriever, but even the Spaniard's fetching could not parry the force of her opponents' shots, particularly the forehand. Davenport bludgeoned her way to a 7- 6, 6-2 victory.

At 6ft 2in and 11st 11lb she has the physique to put power behind the ball; it is her mobility that is sometimes suspect. Yesterday she lasted the course in Georgia's unforgiving heat far better than the Spaniard who was also the beaten finalist in the last two Wimbledons.

The first set was a close affair that seemed destined for a tie break. When it arrived Davenport took the initiative and she had three set points before she sealed it 8-6.

If she only just nudged ahead on the line in that set, however, she romped away in the second, assuming control from the start. Breaking Sanchez Vicario to 30 in the first game, she also prevailed against the Spaniard's serve in the third and seventh games, and by the end the final had become one sided.

For all the ambivalence that tennis's top performers show towards the Olympics, there is something they cannot take away from the competition. It is the only tournament where you can lose and still have something to play for.

Two days after she had been beaten by Sanchez-Vicario in the semi-final, Jana Novotna she left Georgia with a bronze medal, her reward for defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 7-6, 6-4.

Not surprisingly given the torrent of support, it was Fernandez who struck first, breaking Novotna's serve with a powerful cross-court forehand that the 25-year-old Czech could only pat out into the tramlines.

But at 5-3 and set point, Fernandez retreated so alarmingly that by the first game of the second set she had lost five in succession and her serve had been broken twice. Even two double-faults by Novotna in the first set tie-break could not revive her.

Fernandez rallied, breaking back in the eighth game of the second set to level but it was a temporary reprieve, Novotna breaking again to 30 and then sealing the medal when she forced her opponent to hit a forehand into the net.

"You can tell how important this competition is for the women by the numbers who have turned up. I will love the bronze," Novotna said.

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