Tennis: Henman makes tentative return

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Although he did not suffer the same fate as Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, who were both knocked out in the first round of the Italian Open, Tim Henman did not have the easiest of days here yesterday.

The British No 1, playing in his first match since having an elbow operation in March and his first on a slow clay court since the French Open nearly a year ago, beat Roberto Carretero 4-6, 7-5, 2-0, the Spaniard having to retire with a thigh muscle injury.

Henman, however, had to save three match points at 4-5 down in the second set and was generally made to struggle by Carretero, a clay-court specialist who is ranked 334th in the world and has won only two matches all season.

Carretero drew first blood when he broke Henman's serve in the seventh game of the opening set. However, almost all the excitement came in the second set, in which Henman, struggling to find his best form, lost his service in the first game, broke back in the second but went 2-4 down. Carretero still led 5-3 and, after Henman had held his serve for 4-5, the Spaniard served for the match.

It proved a remarkable game. Henman was match point down three times and had seven break points before he finally won the game. That was the beginning of the end for Carretero as Henman won the set 7-5.

Henman went on to win the first two games of the third set before Carretero retired, complaining of a thigh muscle injury. Earlier in the match he had complained of ankle trouble.

Henman, who will now meet one of two Italian qualifiers, Davide Scala or Daniele Musa, in the second round, dropped from 16 to 18 in the world rankings this week and defeat yesterday would have been a setback with the French Open less than two weeks away.

Sampras and Chang both faced jeers and whistles from the centre court crowd after their defeats yesterday. Both lost in straight sets, Sampras going down 7-6, 6-4 to the unseeded Jim Courier and Chang losing to the 54th-ranked Hernan Gumy, of Argentina, 6-3, 6-2. It was the first time ever that the top two seeds had lost in the first round at the Italian Open, which began in 1930.

The match between Sampras and Courier was tight in the first set. They traded service breaks in the first two games, but held serve into the tie-break. Backhand errors by Sampras helped Courier win the set in 49 minutes and the 1992 and 1993 Rome champion played steadily in the second set to win the match.

"With Pete, I'd rather play him in the first round than later,'' Courier said. "He gets more dangerous in the later rounds. We're all more susceptible in the first round."

Sampras also lost his first match in his previous tournament at Monte Carlo. Both defeats came on clay, a surface that Sampras has never conquered. He has won nine Grand Slam titles, but has never succeeded at the French Open - the only Grand Slam played on clay.

Chang, who has won four ATP Tour events this year, never found his form against Gumy, who knocked out Jim Courier, then the fifth seed, in the second round here 12 months ago.

Chang led 40-0 on his own serve at 3-3 in the first set, but then dropped five straight points. The break put Gumy ahead 4-3, and he never looked back. The Argentinian, who lost in the first round at four of his last five clay-court events, broke Chang's serve in the second, fourth and final games of the second set.

"Today was my day,'' Gumy said. "I did everything well. He made a lot of mistakes and I took advantage of them."

Spain's Felix Mantilla, the 13th seed, also failed to reach the second round, losing 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 to the Australian Patrick Rafter. The reigning French Open champion, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, seeded fourth here, moved into the second round with a 7-5, 7-6 victory over Javier Sanchez of Spain, while Boris Becker, of Germany, beat the Italian Andrea Gaudenzi 7-6, 6-2.

Three Spaniards fond of the slow, red surface advanced. Albert Costa beat Germany's Alex Radulescu 7-5, 6-2, Sergi Bruguera beat Australia's Sandon Stolle 6-1, 6-4, and Alberto Berasategui defeated Daniel Vacek of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4.

Steffi Graf, playing her first match after three months out with a knee injury, struggled to a three-set win over the American Chanda Rubin at the German Open in Berlin yesterday. Graf, who lost her world No 1 ranking to Martina Hingis in March, triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. "I felt very uncertain out there at first," Graf said. "I gave away a lot of easy points. I wasn't in the shape that I would like to be. I am not very happy with my performance, but happy that I made it through my first match."