Tennis: Henman's future is crystal clear

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A delighted Tim Henman studied the Waterford Crystal trophy he received on Wednesday night as the ATP Tour's Most Improved Player for 1996 and mentioned how similar it was to the handsome bowl presented to him in Sydney after winning his first Tour singles title in January.

That victory guaranteed Henman's inclusion in next year's tennis Oscar ceremonies as the winner of an ATP Tour Milestone Award, if nothing more, and the 22-year-old from Oxford made it clear that he has not finished crystal gazing. "I'd like to make it a fifth and a tenth and so on," he said, as usual expressing his ambitions without a trace of arrogance.

It is worth noting that Henman's immediate predecessors as Most Improved Player, Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Thomas Enqvist, of Sweden, each received milestone awards on Wednesday to mark their 10th singles titles.

"Winning this is definitely something I'm pleased with," Henman said. "It means recognition amongst my peers, so I've obviously made an impression. It's the first time a British player has won such an award. I'm hoping it's the first of many, for me and for British tennis.''

What impressed his fellow professionals when it came to a final choice between Henman and two other contenders, Felix Mantilla, of Spain, and the American Alex O'Brien, was the manner in which the Briton had raised his ranking from No 99 at the end of 1995 to No 29 at the end of last year.

His efforts took him to singles semi-finals in Shanghai, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Seoul, Lyon, Ostrava, and the Grand Slam Cup in Munich. He was a quarter- finalist at Nottingham and Wimbledon - the first Brit since Roger Taylor 23 years earlier - and advanced to the fourth round of the US Open.

In doubles, Henman was a silver medalist at the Atlanta Olympics (with Neil Broad), and a semi-finalist at Tour events in Seoul (with Gary Muller) and Ostrava (with Andrew Richardson). His prize money for the year was $853,247 (pounds 530,000).

Henman's improvement has continued with the victory in Sydney and finals in Doha and Antwerp. He is seeded No 14 for the Lipton Championships, which got under way here yesterday, and is due to play a qualifier tomorrow, having received a bye in the first round.

On receiving his award at the Jackie Gleason Theatre, Miami Beach, Henman paid tribute to his coach, David Felgate - "but only because it's his birthday!''- and there is little doubt that they make an impressive team.

Afterwards, Henman played down reports that he was to cut down on his recreational sports, such as golf and football, after a swollen elbow caused him to withdraw from last week's tournament at Indian Wells, California. "You always have to be cautious, but not too much," Henman said.

Martina Hingis, Henman's counterpart as the WTA Tour's Most Improved Player, takes a similar view of her pursuits, which include skiing, rollerblading and horse riding. She was thrown from a horse two days before the semi- finals of the Australian Open.

During Wednesday's presentations, Hingis performed a few dance steps on stage with the actor Robert Loggia (Independence Day, Big). "I hope I'm going to be a legend like Martina Navratilova," Hingis said. She makes a start a week next Monday by becoming the youngest ever world No 1, aged 16 years, six months and one day.