Tennis: Henman profits from failure

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ADMITTING THAT he might have been better staying away from the $6.7m (pounds 4.2m) Compaq Grand Slam Cup than performing below par, Tim Henman apologised to the organisers before leaving with $100,000 as a first-round loser last night. He will take a few days' rest before resuming ATP Tour duty in Basle next week.

Leading Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 5-1, in the first set after only 17 minutes, the British No 1 was unable to take any of three set points. Twenty minutes later, Bjorkman took the set, 7-5.

Bjorkman - who, like Henman, served his country handsomely in the Davis Cup last weekend - continued to whittle away at the Briton's resistance. Henman saved two break points in the third game of the second set and four more in the fifth game before Bjorkman cracked him with a forehand return for 3-2, going on to win, 7-5, 6-4, after 72 minutes.

"It feels like I've been playing week after week," said Henman, who has spent only one full day at home since 20 July. "Yes, there is quite a lot of money at stake, but maybe I realise now that isn't the most important thing, and perhaps that doesn't mean quite as much as it used to."

Henman would have won an extra $75,000 for beating Bjorkman and reaching the quarter-finals. The semi- finalists each receive $325,000, the runner-up $650,000, and the winner $1.3m. When Henman previously qualified for the Grand Slam Cup, in 1996, he won $431,250 for playing three matches, losing to Boris Becker in the semi-finals.

There are no world ranking points at stake at the Grand Slam Cup, an indoor finale to the four major championships, only money. Before accepting the invitation to Munich, Henman emphasised that his priority was to qualify for the ATP Tour Championship in Hannover next month. The eight places are decided on the year's ranking points, and Henman is currently No 8 in the race.

Asked if it might have been wiser to have turned down the Grand Slam Cup, Henman said: "I think that could be a fair assumption. You learn from your mistakes." Having helped Britain win promotion to the Davis Cup World Group with a 3-2 victory against India, Henman said he did not intend to put any pressure on himself in Munich, which he regarded as "a bonus week".

His relaxed tennis paid dividends at the start of the match against Bjorkman, who had won the last two of their three previous contests. "I played pretty well to go up 5-1," Henman said. "I was playing pretty loose tennis, going for my shots. I don't think I was doing anything amazing. I think he was making a lot of mistakes early on. He wasn't making many first serves. He was missing in the rallies.

"I kept going for my shots at times, but I didn't make quite as many from then on. I don't think my concentration was quite as good as it could have been on some of the bigger points."

Although unable to build himself up for the occasion, Henman expressed faith in the Grand Slam Cup, which started in 1990 as a December event and last year was brought forward to the end of September. The promoters are hoping to switch to mid-October by 2000.

"I think a place in the calendar needs to be found," Henman said. "I think it's a great tournament. It makes sense with the four Grand Slams; you've got a great opportunity to have a great field. At the moment, it does seem that the calendar is pretty busy. But I think a lot of people should try very hard to find a date that is suitable for everyone. It's tough with the amount of tennis we're playing, with [Pat] Rafter in Australia playing Davis Cup, and [Pete] Sampras injured."

Henman favours a merger between the Grand Slam Cup and the ATP Tour Championship. "Obviously, things need to be worked out, but I think it would be a good idea," he said. "Then there would be one big event instead of the ATP World Championship and this - two tournaments where I think there should perhaps be only one."

Martina Hingis, who marks her 18th birthday today, became the first woman to win a match at the Grand Slam Cup yesterday, when she defeated Conchita Martinez of Spain, 6-2, 7-5. Although a number of shots were breathtaking and some of the rallies dazzling, cynics might say the match was a throwback to some women's contests of the distant past. There were 13 breaks of serve.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich): Men's singles, first round: J Bjorkman (Swe) bt T Henman (GB) 7-5, 6-4. Women's singles, quarter-finals: M Hingis (Swit) bt C Martinez (Sp) 6-2, 7-5.