Tennis: Henman has the strategy for success

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The Independent Online
THE RESILIENT side of Tim Henman's game saw him through to the quarter-finals of the $1m (pounds 600,000) Dubai Duty Free Open last night. In spite of intense pressure, the British No 1 simply refused to allow Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman more than the sniff of a third set.

Henman's win, 6-3, 7-6, after an hour and 41 minutes, was achieved by adopting sensible back-court play when necessary to buttress his attacking style, mixed with the odd stroke of fortune that his overall performance deserved.

Having lost the last three of their four previous matches - his only victory was on grass in Nottingham in 1995 - Henman bolstered his confidence against probably the most accomplished all-round opponent he has met so far this year, certainly the best returner of serve.

Settling into the contest after losing serve in the opening game, Henman's only other distraction en route to securing the first set after 40 minutes was a flickering light from a photographer's lair at the back of the court. Breaks for 1-1 and 4-2 gave him a platform for what was follow in the second set.

Henman's first crucial escape was from 0-40 in the sixth game as Bjorkman mounted his attack. The Swede disputed a call on the third set point, but had no answer to Henman's winning backhand lob. Bjorkman had a fourth break point at 4-3, netting a forehand. Henman finished that game with one of his five aces.

In the tie-break, Bjorkman had three set points from 6-3. Henman erased the first with forehand cross-court winner after a second serve which may have been long. A backhand volley took care of the second set point, and on the third Henman returned a second serve down the line with a splendid drive.

Henman was unable to serve out his first match point, at 7-6, hitting a backhand long, but he returned a second serve to coax Bjorkman to hit a backhand wide for 9-7.

"I had the right tactical game, not to give him too many targets," Henman said. "It's not my normal game, but I still managed to play aggressively from the back."

Tonight Henman plays Jerome Golmard, who was chiefly responsible for his depression at the start of last season, defeating him in the first round of the Australian Open, a result Henman "put behind me" by beating Golmard in Tokyo. Yesterday the Frenchman, ranked No 61, took advantage of an indifferent performance by Karol Kucera, eliminating the No 5 seed, 7-6, 6-1.

Australia's Andrew Ilie followed his amazing first round win against Alex Corretja, the defending champion and world No 2, by dispatching Petr Korda, 6-1, 6-3 on his seventh match point. Ilie plays Gustavo Kuerten, the former French Open champion, in the quarter-finals.

Greg Rusedski's world ranking is under threat as the British No 2 ponders the wisdom of continuing to experiment with a new racket in Rotterdam and Battersea over the next two weeks after his embarrassing defeat by Francisco Clavet, of Spain, in the second round on Wednesday night.

With just two wins to his name this year, Rusedski is likely to cling to his place at No 10 next week only because Kucera, currently No 11, also failed justify himself here. But Rusedski has 816 world ranking points to defend up to the end of March.

Having already lost his points from Split, Croatia, where he was the runner-up to Goran Ivanisivic a year ago this week, Rusedski goes to Rotterdam needing to make up the points he is about to lose from his victory in Antwerp at the end of February last year.

Next month Rusedski will lose the points he gained from an appearance in the quarter-finals in Rotterdam last year, and then faces a major challenge in defending runner-up points from the ATP Tour Super 9 event in Indian Wells, California, where he was defeated by Marcelo Rios in last year's final.

Neither Rusedski's new wand nor the sight of Cinderella calling the lines inspired him to get to the ball on Wednesday night. Cinderella Al Drouby, a line judge from Syria, can wager a glass slipper to a pumpkin that some of her decisions will upset a player or two sooner or later, but so far she has thoroughly enjoyed her debut officiating at an ATP Tour event.

"My mother was reading the Cinderella story the night before I was born, and liked the name a lot," explained the 30-year-old Al Drouby, a former Fed Cup player.

Cinderella is accustomed to receiving quizzical looks. "Some people don't believe it is my real name, and I am always hearing jokes about it," she said. "But I like having an unusual name." She is not alone. Another linesman here is Merlin.

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