Tennis: Battling Henman ends miserable run

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WHEN Tim Henman plays Richard Krajicek, something has to go. Last summer, it was the Dutchman's reign as Wimbledon champion. Last night, it was the Englishman's dismal run of four consecutive first-round defeats.

The 23-year-old from Oxford needed a big performance to lift his confidence, which had drooped on the courts of Melbourne, Split, Dubai and Antwerp, and this was it. Krajicek, the fifth seed in the Guardian Direct Cup, presented just the challenge Henman required and the match fluctuated in such a fashion as to provide a severe test of Henman's self-belief. After suffering early in the match, when nothing Henman tried to do gave him the control of the contest his play deserved, his persistence won the day. Or was it the night? The match did not finish until 12 minutes past midnight, with Henman victorious, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, after two hours and 34 minutes.

Although the opening set was tight and both players served and returned impressively, Henman was the dominant figure. As the match got into gear, the British No 2 crafted seven break points to the Dutchman's one. Three of Henman's opportunities were set points. Moreover he led 5-3 in a tie- break having been gifted two double-faults by his opponent.

For Henman's supporters the opening phase represented 56 minutes of optimism suddenly dashed by mistiming or misfortune or a combination of both. Henman's first two break points came in the second game, earned by a splendid forehand pass down the line. Krajicek saved the first when his backhand down the line was over-ruled in his favour by the umpire. Henman was then lured into netting a backhand off a second serve on the second opportunity.

Encouraged by his escapes, Krajicek threatened to break in the next game, returning a second serve with a backhand pass. Henman smothered the danger with a service winner. He then attacked Krajicek in the fourth game, the Dutchman saving one break point with a high forehand volley and another with a hefty serve, which his opponent could only net with a forehand return.

Neither player gained further advantage until Krajicek served to save the set at 5-6. Henman gained two set points with an unstoppable backhand return down the line from a second serve. Krajicek replied with a service winner followed by an ace. Henman pounced on a second serve to leave the Dutchman facing a third set point. Krajicek missed his first serve, but produced a serve and backhand volley with his second.

And so to the tie-break, during which Henman took a 3-1 lead, returning a second serve. A service winner gave Henman a 5-3 lead, only for him to be pegged back to 5-4 when Krajicek returned a second serve. The next point crucially went against the Briton after a flurry of shots at the net, Henman's reflex backhand volley dropping beyond the baseline. Henman followed this up by missing a backhand second service return, which gave Krajicek a set point. Henman attempted a forehand inside out across the court, missed and forfeited the set, 7-5.

After this, the spectators must have wondered if Henman was about to capitulate. He did not, saving a break point in the second game of the second set with an emphatic second serve, and matching his opponent virtually point for point until broken for 5-3. Krajicek, serving for the match found that fortune had suddenly turned against him. Henman mishit a forehand on break point, but the ball landed good, much to his relief and his opponent's disbelief.

This time it was Henman who forced a tie-break, and his determination did not waver. He won the first three points and held sway to crack Krajicek's services with two more mini-breaks to level the match, 7-2.

Neither player gave much ground during the final set until the concluding game, with Krajicek serving. The Dutchman raised Henman's hopes by netting a backhand volley for 15-30. Henman hit an unstoppable forehand drive to create two match points, and finished the job with the first by returning a second serve to the delight of those spectators who had stayed in the arena.

"It has been the toughest four weeks of my career," Henman said, "and it's a relief and a delight to win against a player of such high calibre."

The result is not good news for Rainer Schuttler, a German qualifier ranked No 118 in the world, who had the audacity to beat Henman in Split and now faces him in the second round here.

TODAY'S ORDER OF PLAY Centre Court, 10.30: B Ulihrach (Cz Rep) v J Siemerink (Neth) followed by D Vacek (Cz Rep) v Y Kafelnikov (Rus). Not before 2.30pm: G Ivanisevic (Croa) v W Ferreira (SA) followed by M Rosset (Swit) v A Richardson (GB). Not before 7.00pm: G Rusedski (GB) v M-K Goellner (Ger) followed by H Arazi (Mor) v P Rafter (Aus). Court One, 12 noon: M Barnard and B Talbot (SA) v D Adams (SA) and L Pimek (Bel) followed by T Carbonell and F Roig (Sp) v P Galbraith (US) and B Steven (NZ) followed by A Kitinov (Mac) and P Vizner (Cz Rep) v M Damm (Cz Rep) and J Grabb (US) followed by J Eagle and A Florent (Aus) v T Kempers and M Oosting (Neth).