Tennis: Henman's star in the ascendant

Click to follow
TIM HENMAN added Andre Agassi's name to his CV yesterday - "it was the best performance of my life" - defeating the American 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, to win the $1m (pounds 610,000) Swiss Indoor Championship. The title stays in Britain, Greg Rusedski having won it last year.

For Henman, the identity of his opponent and the world ranking points he gained out-weighed the $137,000 winner's cheque, although that brought his prize-money to $1,027,420 for the year, and a total of $2,855,778 since turning professional in 1993. And that is apart from the fortune the 24-year-old from Oxford has made from sponsorships and endorsements.

Beating Agassi, the game's major attraction, is an important step for Henman, particularly as he was able to serve consistently well against one of the finest returners in the history of the sport. "He surprised me how well he served and volleyed," Agassi said. "He kicked my ass."

In so doing, Henman struck an early psychological blow for the British Davis Cup team, drawn at home against the Americans in the first round of the World Group in April next year. The immediate impact is to increase Henman's pros-pects of a place in the eight-strong ATP Tour Champion- ships in Hannover next month. He will move up to No 7 in the race, which is based on 1998 results, although his world ranking is likely to stay at No 11.

Henman's only previous match against Agassi was on a concrete court in Los Angeles not long after the Briton's defeat by Pete Sampras in the Wimbledon semi-finals. Agassi won, 6-4, 6-4.

Yesterday it was Henman who took control. "For two sets I played at a level I have only dreamt about before," he said. Henman's form settled as soon as he served his way out of trouble from 0-40 at 3-3 in the opening set.

Adding the finesse of drop shots to an arsenal of compact serves and accurate groundstrokes, Henman took the initiative, breaking in the 10th game. It was the first set Agassi had conceded all week. Henman took a 2-0 lead in the second set and managed to recover his confidence after Agassi broke back to 2-1, making the decisive break for 3-1.

Agassi produced a spectacular shot at 2-3 in the third set to pass Henman after being lobbed. Henman then double-faulted to 30-30 and went on to lose the game and the set.

The 28-year-old American was difficult to shake off in the fourth set. He broke for 2-1, was broken back for 2-2, and hauled Henman back to 4- 4 from 2-4. Henman held to 15 for 5-4. Agassi netted a backhand for 15- 30, hit a forehand long for 15-40, and belted a smash out of bounds after letting a Henman lob bounce on match point.

Agassi spoke highly of Henman even before the match. "It's very nice to see a good guy of Henman's class and professionalism doing so well," he said. "I'm enjoying watching him play."

By last November, Agassi had dropped to No 141 in the world. Now, like Henman, he is on the verge of the ATP Tour Championship. "It's been a lot of hard work," Agassi said, "physically at first, and then in terms of the mental discipline and the mental commitment. You're looking at your work, so you want to be nowhere else but out there on the court. That part has been more difficult for me, but I feel I've accomplished it."