Tennis: Henman succumbs to Rios' heat strokes

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The Independent Online
EVENING shadows spread across the Centre Court at the Foro Italico and a gentle breeze eased the fierce temperatures, which had touched 100 F again. With the heat of the day went the intensity of battle, at least as far as Tim Henman was concerned. The Briton's game was stripped bare by Marcelo Rios's searing groundstrokes on the clay of the Italian Open.

Henman's torture was mercifully brief. He was dispatched, 6-3, 6-1, after only 55 minutes, the second set proving ominously similar to Rios's domination of the third set of their previous meeting on a concrete court at the Lipton Championships in Florida in March. On that occasion it was a 6- 0 whitewash, but the difference was purely mathematical.

Having capitalised on the Frenchman Fabrice Santoro's dismal performance in the first round, Henman was simply unable to cope with Rios as the Chilean world No 3 worked his recently injured elbow into shape for an assault on the French Open the week after next.

Henman knew he would have to serve exceptionally well against his occasional doubles partner if he was to gain time to play his first volley or set himself for a rally but, when he failed to impose his strengths, Rios pushed him farther and farther back until he was out of contention. A Chilean colleague asked Henman why he had not put more pressure on Rios. "Probably because I wasn't able to," the Briton replied. "When you play a person of his calibre, he's not easy to come in against.''

Rios concurred. "I feel I played a perfect game," he said, adding that he enjoyed competing against opponents who serve and volley, but conceding that Henman "seemed to be playing too much from the baseline, but when he came in I passed him.''

Henman had precisely one opportunity, as early as the second game. Having created the break point by luring Rios into netting a forehand, the Briton promptly hit a backhand approach over the baseline. Rios broke in the next game and again in the ninth, Henman compounding matters by double- faulting on the second set point.

Thirty six minutes into the match, Henman found himself endeavouring to make the score respectable, and whistles from the crowd greeted the more elementary of his errors. "The thing is," Rios said, with the merest hint of sympathy, "he's a serve and volley player, and for him to play me on grass would be like me playing him on clay. I played pretty good, and had the game to do it. But I think Tim has possibilities if he tries to do it.''

Pete Sampras, Henman's doubles partner here, defeated Magnus Norman, the man who denied him his dream of winning the French Open last year by eliminating the American in the third round. Sampras required six set points to take the first set and his Swedish opponent had treatment to his right shoulder early in the second set, Sampras winning, 7-6, 6-4 after two hours and seven minutes.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, whose last tournament triumph was in a tented arena in Battersea Park in February, advanced to a third-round meeting with Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion. Kafelnikov, the sixth seed, recovered from a sluggish start to defeat the American Todd Martin,1-6, 7-6, 6-3.

Krajicek, the No 11 seed, was too strong for Nicolas Escude, overwhelming the Frenchman, 6-3, 6-3. Alex Corretja, the Spaniard who defeated Rios in last year's final, was eliminated by Karim Alami, of Morocco, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.