Tennis: Henman has to struggle for success

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The Independent Online
TIM HENMAN continued his bright start to the New Year by reaching the third round of the Qatar Open last night.

The World No 7 needed three sets to overcome the Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui in Doha and had to come back from going one set down. Henman lost the opening set 4-6 but bounced back to level by taking the second 6-3 and then coasted home 6-0 in the decider. The Croatian Goran Ivanisevic joined him in the next round when he beat Christophe van Garsse of Belgium 6-3, 6-0.

In Perth, Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden called for the suspension of Petr Korda yesterday and labelled the International Tennis Federation "scared" in the wake of the Australian Open champion's positive drugs test. After leading Sweden to a Hopman Cup victory over the Slovak Republic, Bjorkman said that Korda deserved to be thrown off the ATP Tour because of his positive test for a banned steroid at Wimbledon last year. Results of the test were only made public last month.

"If you cheat you should be suspended for two, three, four or five years," Bjorkman said. "I wouldn't say he took it like a nose spray. You can miss [those ingredients] because it has different names on it. But this is steroids and you take them or not. There is no one that is just going to put them into you. He played his best tennis all the way up to Wimbledon and then he was gone."

The normally subdued Swede, once ranked fourth in the world, is the first high-profile player to have spoken out on the Korda scandal. The ITF was roundly criticised for only fining Korda his tournament earnings at Wimbledon and docking him the ATP Tour computer points won at the event.

Bjorkman said the game's governing body had neglected its responsibilities. "I think it is the worst decision the ITF have made," he said. "It is totally the worst that could happen for tennis. I hope all the players in Australia will get together and really put pressure on the ITF and ATP. We've heard so many things that guys are positive and they just cover it over - they are scared of putting it out."

Korda lost his first match in the Qatar Open in Doha on Tuesday, prompting the veteran left-hander to voice his uncertainty about travelling to Australia to defend his title. Bjorkman was infuriated by Korda's comments.

"He is trying to get people to feel bad for him and I think that is the worst he can do," the Swede said. "It is better to be honest and say `Yes, I am sorry I did that' and then that is it." Bjorkman said he had been drug tested "something like 15 times in 1998". He asked: "Why be tested 15 times when we are still not going to be really hard on the guys who are cheating?"

Earlier, Bjorkman and Asa Carlsson had all but ended the Slovak Republic's dreams of retaining their Hopman Cup mixed-team title with a 2-1 win. Bjorkman and Carlsson, who beat the fancied United States on Monday, clinched the tie when they overcame Karol Kucera and Karina Habsudova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the mixed doubles.

Australia, inspired by the teenager Jelena Dokic, swept aside the top seeds, Spain, 3-0 to reach the brink of a finals place. The eventual scoreline for Sweden appeared unlikely when Habsudova beat Carlsson 6-3, 6-3 in the opening singles. But Bjorkman came to the rescue by disposing of Kucera 7-5, 6-1 before showing his world class doubles talent to help seal the result.

Sweden will play in Saturday's final if they can beat Switzerland on Friday, while the Slovak Republic need favourable results to have any chance of repeating last year's success.

Steffi Graf has dismissed reports that she could be ready to retire and has set her sights on adding to the 21 Grand Slam titles amassed during her glittering 17-year career. The 29-year-old German player, in Hong Kong for an exhibition event, rejected talk of retirement and said her lengthy injury lay-offs had rekindled her enthusiasm for the game.

Asked about speculation she may quit, Graf said: "It's not true. It's news to me. I still love tennis very much. It's always a challenge for me to go out there. And if I look back at the last few tournaments I played at the end of last season it was a thrill to be out on the court playing well, playing the top players, to feel the crowd behind me. I still enjoy it so much. That's why I'm still around. After the operation on my knee in 1997 I was out for something like five months. At first I didn't miss playing that much because it was nice to have some time away with friends, but when I started playing again I realised how much it meant to me."

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