Grosjean poses greatest threat yet to Henman

British No 1 faces impressive Frenchman today with a semi-final place at stake and chance to avenge earlier Queen's Club defeat
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The Independent Online

Tim Henman, the night watchman, will become a comparatively early bird on the Centre Court today as he attempts to advance to the semi-finals for the fifth time in six years.

After racing against the eventide in his last two matches, the British No 1 will open the afternoon's play in a re-match of the contest he lost against the Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean in the semi-finals of the Stella Artois Championships across the Thames at Queen's Club 25 days ago.

The difference today is that the match will be played over the best of five sets, and Henman looks more like the player he used to be after working his way past three qualifiers and last year's runner-up, David Nalbandian.

Yesterday, as Henman loosened up on a practice court, Grosjean was back on Court One to complete his fourth-round match against Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, the French Open champion, which had been suspended overnight with the Frenchman leading by two sets to one.

Grosjean, the 13th seed, took 68 minutes to win the fourth set against the Spanish third seed for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory. Grosjean said afterwards that the muscle strain that caused him to play with a support on his right thigh was none the worse for the exercise.

Watched by Guy Forget, France's Davis Cup player, who twice ended Jeremy Bates's prospects of reaching the quarter-finals in the early 1990s, Grosjean gave an impressive display of groundstroke skills and court-craft. The 5ft 9in competitor from Marseilles also showed his fighting qualities, much admired by Patrice Hagelauer, the Lawn Tennis Association's former director of performance, who has returned to Forget's side as the Davis Cup coach.

Broken for 1-3, Grosjean immediately counter-attacked, flustering Ferrero, who double-faulted twice in the next game, the second time on the fourth break point. The Spanish master of clay courts was broken a second time at 5-5, but then saved a match point with a backhand volley, of all things, to force a tie-break. Grosjean won the shoot-out, 7-2, finishing with an ace on his second match point.

Henman's first match against Grosjean was at Wimbledon, in the third round in 1999. Henman won in four sets. In their last encounter, at Queen's, Henman was short of match play, having started the season late after surgery to his right shoulder in November. Not only was he outplayed by the Frenchman, but he also had to call the trainer to massage his shoulder.

The shoulder, and Henman's form, appear to have improved from the moment he walked back into the All England Club, as Grosjean has noticed.

"I won the match at Queen's because I returned very well and he was not serving as well as he used to because of his shoulder. He didn't serve-and-volley. I think he's got used to the pressure here. It's huge, but he handles it very well. I would be very pleased to make four semi-finals at Roland Garros."

Henman will have to raise his game again to overcome the Frenchman today. If he does, the big-serving Australian Mark Philippoussis could be waiting in the semi-finals, buoyed by his fourth-round victory against Andre Agassi.

Today Philippoussis plays the 198th-ranked Alexander Popp, a 26-year-old German whose mother is from Wolverhampton. The Australian, who has overcome three career-threatening injuries, has worked too hard to allow himself to be tripped by complacency. "It's the first time I'm going to be playing a serve-and-volleyer," Philippoussis said. "All the other matches, the guys mostly stayed back. I'm going to have to work on my passing shots, make him play. It's always tough when you play against somebody for the first time."

It was feared that Roger Federer, the Swiss fourth seed, would be given a walkover into the semi-finals. His Dutch opponent, Sjeng Schalken, aggravated an injury to his left foot in his match against Rainer Schüttler and had an MRI scan last night. The result showed inflammation, and he will play on with the aid of pain-killers.

Aware of Schalken's problem, Federer was relieved that his strained back muscle showed signs of easing yesterday after intensive physiotherapy. The injury occurred during the warm-up prior to his fourth-round match against Feliciano Lopez, of Spain. As a precaution, Federer did not practise yesterday.

Federer or Schalken will meet either the American Andy Roddick, the bookmakers' favourite, or Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden, aged 31, the oldest man in the last eight.

Roddick, who lost to Bjorkman on grass at Nottingham last year in their only previous match, has been listening intently to his new coach, Brad Gilbert. "Brad's philosophy," the fifth-seeded Roddick said, "is if you want to win a Grand Slam you've got to knock people down as they come, regardless."

Bjorkman, a semi-finalist at Nottingham en route to Wimbledon, appears to be in a relaxed mode off the court. Like Tim Henman, he has become a father for the first time. His son, Max, was born in January.

"Being an underdog suits me pretty good," Bjorkman said. "Andy's a tough player, but I'm in good form. It's always sweet to be doing well in the Slams."

Bjorkman's best result in a Grand Slam championship was a semi-final appearance at the 1997 United States Open, where he lost to Britain's Greg Rusedski. "I'm used to playing a big server," Bjorkman said. "It will not be something I'll feel any different about going up against Andy now. When I played him at Nottingham last year, he came in a bit, but I don't think he's going to do that again, because that wasn't too successful. I guess he's going to stay back and try to win the points from the baseline and off his serve."

All very interesting, but the main event is Tiger Tim versus Big John.