Tennis: Henman proves master of Moya

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The Independent Online
THE joy of watching Tim Henman in full flow was one of the delights at the Lipton Championships yesterday here as the British No 2 advanced to the last 16 with a 6-1, 6-4 win against the Spaniard Carlos Moya.

All the doubts which have cramped Henman's elegant style in recent months appeared to evaporate with the overnight rain as the 23-year-old from Oxford dominated his opponent from the start, displaying even greater authority than when defeating Moya in the 1997 final in Sydney to secure his first ATP Tour title.

Henman was almost unrecognisable from the edgy performer who had lost five of his opening-round matches this year while clinging to a place in the top 20 and almost losing sight of his Davis Cup team-mate, Greg Rusedski, on his rise to No 5.

One of Henman's early departures came in his last tournament on a similar concrete court at Indian Wells, California, two weeks ago, where he lost to Wayne Black, of Zimbabwe. Yesterday, Henman was able to file that ragged performance, and several others, in the recess of his mind.

"This is the best I've played this year, for sure," he said. "The consistency and quality of tennis was just as good as it gets for me. The way I've played here and in Indian Wells is chalk and cheese. Wayne Black is a good players, but I was a stupid player. I played to my weaknesses."

For 4,000 spectators on the Grandstand Court yesterday, many of whom had come in the hope of cheering a Hispanic victory, the view of Henman's seemingly effortless serve and volley was handsome consolation. One of the tournament's guests, Britain's Roger Taylor, one of the "Handsome Eight" who helped force the issue of open tennis 30 years ago, thoroughly enjoyed Henman's 65-minute performance.

Henman won eight of the first nine games, saving two break points in the fifth and retrieving four more from 0-40 when serving for the opening set after 29 minutes. The 18th-ranked Moya threatened briefly, recovering from 0-2 in the second set, only to be put firmly back in his place in the next game.

After converting match point, Henman grinned broadly towards his coach, David Felgate. "When you're winning a lot, you take it for granted," Henman said. "That hasn't been the case in the last five or six weeks. Now I feel I'm coming out of it. It's satisfying and gives me a feeling of relief."

Many times during his form lapses, Henman has expressed frustration at his failure to translate his work in training into winning points. "I wasn't taking what I was doing on the practice courts on the match court," he said. "My game today was pretty clear cut - be aggressive - and I stuck to it. My serve was on song today, I was hitting the corners very well and coming in on his second serve. I didn't think there was an area of my game that wasn't working."

Practising with a revitalised Andre Agassi might have helped ("Andre's definitely for real. I think he'll soon be back in the top 10 or top five"). Contemplation has also made a difference.

"When I lost in Indian Wells I didn't practice for two days," he said. "I played some golf. I didn't think it was necessary to practise straight away. It was more important to think exactly about what I was doing."

Last year at the Lipton, Henman lost his opening match against another Spaniard, Julian Alonso. The 20-year-old from Barcelona, ranked No 43 in the world and boasting the third fastest serve in the world (140 mph) after Rusedski, was eliminated by the American Vince Spadea in the first round on this occasion, but he is grabbing more headlines than his compatriots.

Alonso has been escorting the 17-year-old Martina Hingis, world No 1 and Wimbledon champion. They were photographed hand in hand at the players' party at the All Star Cafe, in South Beach on Sunday night. Gossip columnists please note.