Tennis: Henman so happy with Qatar form

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THE TOP seed Tim Henman advanced to the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open yesterday by beating Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui despite losing the first set. The Briton was not only too strong, but also too consistent, for the 26-year-old Moroccan and clinched the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

The fourth-seed, Goran Ivanisevic, also advanced after brushing aside Christophe Van Garsse of Belgium 6-3, 6-0 in 43 minutes.

Henman admitted afterwards that he lost the first set not because he played poorly but because he was unable to win the points that mattered. "The first set was probably my better tennis," he said. "I created a lot of opportunities, but I couldn't quite take them."

The Moroccan unleashed a succession of blistering passing shots and took the first of three break points to lead 5-4 before serving out to take the first set. Henman stepped up the tempo in the second set and repeatedly pulled El Aynaoui out of position, leaving the Briton large areas of the court exposed to finish his points. Henman's confidence grew with every shot and so did the volume of the crowd, which filled the stadium to capacity.

"It's a good atmosphere," Henman said. "They're a little noisy at times - and there's the odd mobile phone that goes off. But apart from that, it's a good place to play. I've had a good start here, and I'm happy with the way I'm playing. I'm in the quarters, and I'm playing outside on Rebound Ace surface which is great preparation for the Australian Open."

The American Jeff Tarango also advanced to the next round, defeating Fernando Vicente of Spain 6-3, 7-5.

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 elements] because it has different names on it. But this is steroids and you either take them or not. There is no one who 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.

Earlier, Bjorkman and Asa Carlsson had all but ended the Slovak Republic's hopes 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. Sweden will play in Saturday's final if they can beat Switzerland tomorrow, 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: "I still love tennis very much. It's always a challenge for me to go out there."