Tennis: Henman loses battle of wills

Davis Cup: Courier takes advantage of Briton's faulty serve to give United States team the perfect start

BIRMINGHAM ACQUIRED a marathon on a tennis court at the National Indoor Arena yesterday when Jim Courier defeated Tim Henman 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, after four hours and 12 minutes, to given the United States a winning start in the Davis Cup World Group first round tie against Britain.

Try though Henman did to respond to the roar of the crowd, Courier would not be denied. There was pride in every winning shot he made in a victory which achieved more than words could to mock his compatriots, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, for their lack of interest in the 100th anniversary of tennis's premier men's team competition.

The 28-year-old Courier's response to a call to arms was magnificent, and he ended the long duel with Henman, the British No 1, with a backhand service return to break his opponent to love. Both players had given all they had, and only the second set, won by Henman, could be described as straightforward.

The first set tie-break ran away from Henman after he hit his second double fault of the match for 1-3. The players had been on court for 48 minutes, and Courier was ready to take his opportunity. The American forced another mini break, returning a second serve, and he secured the set in style, 2-7, with a forehand lob after Henman had again missed with a first serve.

Although there were no service breaks en route to the first set shoot-out, Henman did well to escape in the opening game, in which his erratic first serve gave Courier four break points. Having double faulted on the first point of the match, Henman served and volleyed his way out of trouble on the first break- point, and erased the second with an ace. Courier missed a forehand on the third opportunity, and hit a backhand second service return long on the fourth.

Henman steadied his serve to the extent that he did not lose a point on it until reaching 30-0 at 4-4. Courier was unimpressed, having given little away on his own serves, hitting them deep and following them to the net whenever it seemed prudent. Henman created a couple of delightful drop volleys to take a 6-5 lead, but took only one point off Courier's serve before the umpire called the tie-break.

The crowd had been subdued during the early part of the match, so quiet in the opening games that the air-conditioning made the most noise, an eerie whistling wind sound which created an impression that 10,000 inhabitants in the National Indoor Arena were trapped in a haunted house.

Henman's endeavours transformed the atmosphere by breaking for 3-2 in the second set, his service return on the final point prompting roars of delight and much stamping of feet. Courier's serve began to waver, and he hit his first double-faults of the match in the seventh game, the third on break point. Henman held to love to level the match, taking the set in 30 minutes.

Courier double-faulted again to present Henman with an opportunity to break in the third game of the third set, but Henman's forehand return on the next point landed in the net. Service errors were beginning to become a feature of the contest, Henman double-faulting when broken for 2-5 - Courier responding in kind to lose the initiative when serving at 5-3. The American lost his composure over the line call on his second serve, marching to the net to protest, a rebel on a court of Confederate grey-blue. Tom Gullikson, the United States' captain, made a moderate complaint to the French umpire, Bruno Rebeuh, who made plain his agreement with the judge's call. Henman continued to play his way back into the set, and Courier's relationships with the crowd continued to deteriorate. The American's elaborate gesture to show where he believed a Henman shot had landed beyond the baseline in the 10th game irritated the spectators, who were annoyed further after he congratulated a line judge for a correct call on the way to the second tie-break.

"Give me a break down here," Courier shouted at 2-2 in the shoot-out. A spectator responded with: "I suppose you thought that was in as well?" after Courier clearly missed his first serve on the next point. Courier turned and pointed at the heckler after nudging ahead, 3-2. He then broke Henman for 5-2 and won the shoot-out, 7-3, for a two set to one lead.

Henman recovered a break of serve to level at 4-4 on the way to the fourth-set tie-break, which was to generate the most dramatic action of the match. Double faults played a part, Henman hitting two for 4-5. He recovered for 5-5, only to hit a backhand long to give Courier the first of four match points. The American missed with the a wild backhand service return. Henman created a set point with an ace, only to net a forehand for 7-7.

Henman saved the second match point with another ace, but double-faulted for 8-9. A backhand to the baseline saved the third match point, and Courier hit another wild backhand return wide across the court on his fourth. The American compounded that by missing a forehand on Henman's second set point, the Briton winning the shoot-out, 12-10.

There are no tie-breaks in the fifth sets of Davis Cup matches, and this one did not necessitate one, even though games went according to serve until it came Henman's turn to toss the ball and deliver in the 12th game. This time, when Courier had his fifth match-point, he hit the sweetest backhand cross-court return you could wish to see.

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