Coria succeeds although game plan goes awry

American tennis players have a word they use almost
ad nauseam. It is "execute", and they use it not to imply that they will cut their opponents' heads off, but in the sense of carrying out their game plan.

American tennis players have a word they use almost ad nauseam. It is "execute", and they use it not to imply that they will cut their opponents' heads off, but in the sense of carrying out their game plan.

There was nothing wrong with Tim Henman's game plan against Guillermo Coria - it worked a dream for a set and a half. What failed him was his serve, his forehand and his volleys. In short, from 6-3, 4-2, Henman failed to execute.

For a match billed as a classic attacker against baseliner clash in the mould of Borg v McEnroe, Evert v Navratilova, Sampras v Agassi and others, Henman surprised Coria with the shock tactic of not rushing to the net at every opportunity.

Asked after his quarter-final win against Juan Ignacio Chela whether Argentinians fear a player storming to the net, Henman replied: "I think these days no one's really comfortable facing someone rushing in."

Armed with that knowledge, Coria will have based his game plan around passing and lobbing the Briton. Hence his confusion at seeing his opponent spending much more time on the baseline in the first set than anyone expected. It took Henman until the fifth game to really rush in after his serve, and it was not until the first point of the second set that he chipped and charged on a return of serve.

The strategy gave Coria, a man willing to run all day, no rhythm. As the first set wore on, Henman took late decisions to come to the net, happy to go for risks on his groundstrokes, and if they opened up the court he ghosted in to play some relatively easy volleys.

Though Coria is reported to be a calmer man since he got married late last year, Henman's tactics had the Argentinian so shaken that the spectre of his Roland Garros semi-final from last year, where he was nearly defaulted for throwing his racket at a ball girl, re-appeared. As Henman broke for 5-3, Coria smashed his racket and earned a warning.

Further evidence that Henman had undermined Coria's psychological equilibrium came when the Argentinian missed an easy forehand in the third game of the second set, netted a routine drive volley in the same game and queried a line call a good 20 seconds after Henman's shot had beaten him.

But for the brilliance of the strategy to deliver a victory, Henman had to keep up his level of play. His forehand and the chipped backhand were working a treat, and midway through the second set he dropshotted Coria off a return of serve, a rarely seen shot these days. Yet his first serve was worryingly inconsistent and his volleys were adequate.

So why from 4-2 in the second set did Coria win 13 games on the run? Simple - Henman failed to execute.

Though the turning point looked like the seventh game of the second set, the ninth - with the score at 4-4 - was more crucial. Having just broken back, Coria played a poor game and was lucky that Henman missed three forehands. Had Henman broken, Coria's mental fragility could have been exposed again. As it was, Henman's forehand proved fragile, his serve didn't improve and his volleys disintegrated.

The pent-up clay court brilliance of Coria was suddenly unleashed, and while Henman recovered in the fourth set - having wisely stuck to his tactics of variation - he had let the genie out of the bottle, and there was no putting him back.

Despite the defeat, Henman's five victories here and his first set-and-a-half against Coria will have signalled to the tennis fraternity that old-fashioned slicing and net-rushing - when judiciously used - can reap rewards on clay. Henman has avoided the trap into which Pete Sampras fell in Paris in the 1990s and Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon in the 1980s, that of trying to develop a clay court/grass court game.

He has played his own game, but adapted his strengths, his slices and volleys, to the slowness and low bounce of the surface. The main beneficiary could be the Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who plays a similar style to Henman but has yet to look totally comfortable on clay, despite winning two Masters Series titles.

If only Henman had executed for three sets yesterday, it might have been Coria who lost his head.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker