Tennis: Pickard tells Henman's detractors to back off

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The Independent Online
TONY PICKARD, the elder statesman of British coaches, made a plea for patience yesterday as Tim Henman prepared to put his damaged confidence to the test in Battersea Park tonight against Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion.

After returning from Antwerp with his triumphant client Greg Rusedski, who on Sunday won his sixth ATP Tour singles title and rose to No 5 in the world rankings, Pickard spared a thought for Henman and his coach, David Felgate, who have suffered four first round defeats.

"They are going through the horrors, and are getting a lot of mixed opinions from people who don't know the circumstances," Pickard said. "I don't think people should stand back and criticise either Tim or David, because that is destructive.''

Pickard, who helped steer Sweden's Stefan Edberg to the pinnacle of the sport and contributed towards the Czech Petr Korda's flourishing late career, introduced Henman to Britain's Davis Cup squad when he was the captain and Felgate the coach.

"People in this country have been starved of success at tennis for so many years that I suppose it's inevitable that they now have such high expectations," Pickard said. "Tim and David are new boys on the block, and they should be left to sort things out themselves. There's always a way out, and one or the other of them will cough it out.

"You can't win every match you play, otherwise you would play four tournaments a year and win the Grand Slam. There is no real difference, whatever sport it is, you go through bad times. If things are still not not going right in a few months time, I'm sure Tim and David will sort it out in their own way.''

Henman and Krajicek have only met once before, Henman ending the Dutchman's Wimbledon reign and advancing to the quarter-finals last summer.

Krajicek, who has won the St Petersburg title and eight of his nine matches this year, understands Henman's current difficulties. "Players always find their own media the most negative," he said. "The last thing you want to talk about is a bad run of form, because you're trying to put it out of your mind. I don't usually talk about a bad run until I'm over it."

Whisper it, but it is possible for Rusedski to rocket to No 1 in the world if he wins both the $815,000 Guardian Direct Cup here and next week's Rotterdam tournament and Pete Sampras and the group chasing the American have two bad weeks.

First, of course, comes the task of sustaining last week's impetus in his opening match tomorrow night against Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner. Rusedski won their only previous contest on clay, in the first round of the 1994 French Open.

Rusedski's success in Antwerp was built on a solo trip to Split for the Croatian Open following the disappointment of his defeat by Todd Woodbridge in the third round of the Australian Open.

"There was a reason why Greg went to Split by himself," Pickard said. "It was deliberate. I saw what was wrong at the Australian Open, something to do with Greg's approach. I wanted him to sort it out for himself. I didn't want him to have a crutch to lean on.''

Pickard has also persuaded Rusedski, whose serve-volley style is most effective on the faster surfaces, to play a full season on the slow clay courts of Europe this year. "Greg won't be going to the Far East this time," Pickard said. "If he plays the clay court tournaments he will have even more strength in his all round game.''

Martin Lee, who enjoyed international success as a junior, is another Briton who will concentrate on clay court events in Europe in the months to come, albeit on the Satellite and Challenger circuit. "My best results as a junior were on clay, and I think it's the best surface for learning the game," he said.

The 20-year-old Lee, who received a wild card for Battersea, was defeated in the first round yesterday by Bohdan Ulihrach, a Czech ranked No 31 in the world, 223 places above his opponent. Lee, beaten 6-4, 7-6 produced some excellent shots, both in attack and defence. He had the first opportunity to break, in the second game of the opening set, before losing his serve at 4-4, and broke back impressively in the second to force the tie-break.

TODAY'S ORDER OF PLAY (Centre Court): 10.30: G Raoux (Fr) v K Kucera (Slovak); followed by C Pioline (Fr) v F Clavet (Sp); not before 2.30: P Korda (Cz Rep) v D Prinosil (Ger); followed by T Johansson (Swe) v Y Kafelnikov (Rus); not before 7pm: W Ferreira (SA) v C Wilkinson (GB); followed by R Krajicek (Neth) v T Henman (GB). (Court One): 12pm: F Dewulf (Bel) v G Blanco (Sp); followed by M Gustafsson (Swe) v B Steven (NZ); followed by M Damm (Cz Rep) v R Schuttler (Ger); followed by A Kratzmann (Aus) and F Wibier (Neth) v G Ivanisevic and I Ljubicic (Croa); followed by N Broad (GB) and P Norval (SA) v J Eagle and A Florent (Aus).