Tennis; Henman wins but fails to convince

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The Independent Online
It was just as well the All England Club recognised Tim Henman as a Wimbledon seed yesterday because no one else would have done. He said he had flowed for an hour at the Nottingham Open yesterday, which was not a unanimous opinion..

Henman defeated fellow-Briton Andrew Richardson 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 in a first-round match that lasted a shade under two hours but shade was the appropriate word. It was a patchy performance and one that would not convince you to put your faith on him to match last year's quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon, where he will be ranked 14th.

"If I'd won 6-3, 6-3 as I should have done," he said, "I would have been very pleased but a win is a win."

Henman needs to strike a higher pitch urgently. Since returning from an operation on his elbow, he has lost in the first rounds of the Italian and French Opens and the only opponent he has beaten is Richardson who is ranked 200 places below him - he beat him at Queen's last week.

Yesterday the result could easily have been reversed. Henman broke in the first and third games to take the first set in 29 minutes but when he missed three game points to break Richardson at 4-3, the belief dripped out of him. "Hit it," he shouted at himself at one point, a plea to his confidence to let him go through with his strokes.

The affirmative response came only when he broke his opponent in the ninth game of the deciding set. Ahead, he was released from his doubts and served to love to win the match.

If Henman is a seed of doubt then Marcelo Rios looks like an upset waiting to happen. The Chilean will go to Wimbledon as the ninth-ranked player but if the seedings committee had seen his performance yesterday then he would have been one they would have tossed by the wayside. To describe him as dreadful during his 6-4, 6-2 defeat by Kenneth Carlsen would be to flatter.

Rios took one look at the court and was immediately discouraged, describing grass as being only fit for "cows and playing soccer". He then said he was looking forward to playing at Wimbledon but with the forced expression of someone extolling the joys of visiting a dentist..

Carlos Moya, the top seed here, did little to inspire confidence either, going down 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 to Romania's Adrian Voinea.