Tennis: Henman the marathon man

Davis Cup: Martin can find no answer to British No 1's courage in tense final day's play
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The Independent Online
AN EPIC Davis Cup tie between Britain and the United States at the National Indoor Arena here went to a fifth match after a test of endurance between the No 1 players. Britain's Tim Henman pushed his time on court to 10 hours and 44 minutes for the three days in defeating Todd Martin, who was nursing a strained stomach muscle, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

"Three hours 17 minutes is a little bit short for me," Henman said in jest to the 9,320 spectators, adding with refreshing honesty: "I think [the match] turned on a questionable call. You've got to take them when they come your way."

The call in question was a backhand volley from Martin that would have taken the American to 4-3, 40-15 after he had just broken Henman in the second set. The ball appeared to land on the line, but was called wide. Martin, clearly unsettled by the decision, overhit his next backhand volley over the baseline to offer a break point, and Henman converted it with a backhand down the line for 4-4.

"Walking off the court, I hated to feel like I wanted to make an excuse for myself," Martin said. "It was my fault that I lost my concentration, but it would have been a lot easier to keep my concentration if that call had been made properly. I would not expect Tim to give me the point in this situation - in a singles match in a tournament somewhere, but not in Davis Cup. It is possible he could have seen it wrong, and that I could have seen it wrong, and the lineslady could have seen it correct; but I don't think so."

After controlling events until that juncture, Martin found himself in a contest. He double-faulted to 15-40 in the 12th game, Henman taking the second of the set points, returning a second serve so well that Martin could do no more than hit a backhand into the net. The match was one hour and 37 minutes old, and Henman's revival was under way, backed by an louder walls of sound than before. "[The crowd] were keeping me in it in the first two sets when he was dominating," Henman said.

The opening set had ominous signs that Martin was about to take charge, as he had done in three of their four previous matches, including the quarter-final at Wimbledon in 1996. Although the American began to banter with the crowd as early as the fifth game, he was calm enough to take advantage of Henman's erratic serve and forehand to break for 4-3, setting himself with a superb forehand lob to 30-40. Henman had a break point for 4-4, Martin rescuing himself with an ace and two service winners.

Once Henman had levelled the match, the usually affable Martin found himself at odds with the spectators more often than was good for his game. Bouncing the ball while waiting for noises off court to subside tended to irritate the excited crowd, and a ball Martin hit at the advertising hoarding at the back of the court came close to striking a line judge.

Henman won the opening three games of the third set, but Martin broke back for 2-3 on his fourth break point of the fifth game. The American was to save three break points in the sixth game, but double-faulted to 0-40 to give Henman the opening he needed at 4-3, the Briton punishing a second serve. Martin's condition was not improved when he tumbled while attempting to intercept a backhand volley that gave Henman his second set point. Martin was then unable to keep a backhand in play down the line.

In spite of his set-backs, Martin seemed certain to force the match into a fifth set after breaking for 5-3 in the fourth, Henman netting a backhand on the third break point. Even though Henman recovered the break in the next game, with a splendid forehand drive to the corner, Martin had a set point with Henman serving at 5-6. The Briton, who had double-faulted on deuce, salvaged the position with an angled forehand volley, and the crowd breathed again before moving to the edge of their seats in anticipation of the tie-break.

Henman eased the tension by winning the first four points. Martin recovered one of the mini-breaks, for 2-4, but the shoot-out then proceeded with serve. Henman took a 6-4 lead with his 18th ace, delivered at 120 mph, and was able to convert the first match point, Martin returning serve with a backhand into the net. After shaking Martin's hand, Henman raised his arms in response to the crowd's roars and then raced to the side of the court for a series of high-fives with his team mates and the coaching and training staff.

It had been a memorable weekend for the 24-year-old from Oxford, starting with the disappointment of losing the opening match to Jim Courier in five sets on Friday, and then partnering Greg Rusedski to a five-sets victory in Saturday's doubles.

Bunny Austin, 92, a member of the only British team ever to win a tie from 0-2, against Germany at London's Queen's Club on 24 April 1930, said he watched every ball on television. He thought the doubles victory by Henman and Rusedski against Martin and Alex O'Brien was wonderful. "The way they played was absolutely beautiful," he said.

n In an early shock Sweden, the holders, fell to a first-round exit at the hands of Slovakia in front of their own fans in Trollhattan yesterday. The man who caused the damage was the Slovak No 1, Karol Kucera, who played in three matches at the weekend and completed victory last night by beating Thomas Enqvist in four sets.

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