Tennis: Henman's brilliance proves too much for Muster

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The Independent Online


reports from Flushing Meadow

Tim Henman burst into spectacular form at the United States Open here yesterday with a first-round victory against Thomas Muster, the Austrian No 5 seed and former world No 1 who has added expertise on hard courts to his mastery of European clay.

Suddenly picking up where he left off before losing to Michael Stich in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, the 22-year-old from Oxford gave a splendid display of attacking tennis, serving 16 aces and smothering Muster's powerful baseline game to win 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.

Not only did Henman subdue his opponent with classic serve and volley style, but the splendour of his follow-up play, including an array of dropshots, lobs and acrobatic backhand volleys, frustrated Muster in points which he believed he controlled. After one breathtaking Henman shot in the sixth game of the third set, Muster ran round the net post and chased him off the court. "It was a bit of fun," Henman said.

The opening set blossomed into an impressive pattern of the way all but the third set would go, except that Muster did regain a degree of composure after appearing ready to sink without trace beneath the waves of Henman's confident flow. The Briton, who on Monday lost his national No 1 ranking to Greg Rusedski, his Canadian-born rival, served brilliantly in the opening set and was also able to capitalise on Muster's edgy responses.

Having consulted Stefan Edberg on the eve of the match, Henman put into practice the attacking philosophy which had enabled the Swede to defeat Muster in all their 10 matches. Henman conceded only three points on his serve in that opening set, one in the fifth game and two in the ninth. He required one break, in the second game, to shake his opponent's resolve.

Henman, unseeded, continued to make the No 5 ranked Muster look second best during the second set. Impressively, the Briton recovered after losing his serve in the second game, in which he double-faulted to give Muster the opportunity to win the game with a backhand drive down the line. Aided by Muster's successive double-faults in losing the third game, Henman matched his opponent for the remainder of the games and dominated the tie-break, 7-3.

There was some rousing action on both sides of the net in the third set. Henman was unable to convert either of two break points in the second game and was then broken to trail 2-1. Muster clung to the advantage, but his prospects of forcing a fifth set came to naught.

The Austrian's exertions began to take an adverse effect on the left elbow which generates so much of his power. He was rubbing the joint frequently from the third game of the fourth set, and his serve was broken for 4- 5. Henman served out the match on his second match point, executing a classic angled backhand volley.

In the second round he plays the South African Wayne Ferreira, who retrieved a two-set deficit in defeating Alberto Berasategui of Spain, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

Shortly before Muster went on court, the ATP Tour issued a statement describing year- long news accounts alleging that the Austrian has tested positive in anti-doping tests as "uninformed and irresponsible".

The latest allegation, in an Italian newspaper, followed Muster's appearance in Cincinnati, where he lost to Pete Sampras in the final. Muster said: "I have been tested several times and never been tested positive. I do not take banned substances. The recent report in Gazzetta dello Sport that I tested positive in Cincinnati is untrue and unfair."

Mark Miles, the ATP Tour's chief executive, said: "This year, to our knowledge, Thomas has been rumoured to have tested positive at four tournaments. At two of those tournaments there wasn't even any anti-doping testing.

"Rumours and unsubstantiated statements, whether made by the media, players or anyone associated with the game are unfair to players, can irreparably damage their reputation and malign the integrity of the game."

Iva Majoli, the French Open champion, was eliminated in the second round of the women's singles. The No 4 seed from Croatia went down to the No 17 ranked Sandrine Testud, of France, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1.