Happy days are here again for revitalised Henman

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski might have been unhappy with his early start on Monday at the Stella Artois Championships, but Tim Henman had no complaints here yesterday. Opening match on Centre Court, 12.30 start, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Nicolas Mahut in an hour and a quarter, back home in time to watch England play Trinidad and Tobago, thank you very much.

After his victory, Henman bumped into Andy Roddick, who was scheduled to play the last match of the day against Paradorn Srichaphan. "I told him there might be six or seven foreigners watching him play," Henman said. "But only if the football is finished by then."

Henman is in good spirits this week and no wonder. He is back on the surface he loves and, more importantly, playing what he believes is his best tennis for two years. Having swept aside Andre Agassi and Ramon Delgado in the first two rounds, he was rarely in trouble against an opponent who is ranked only two places behind him at No 78 in the world but is adrift by the length of the Channel Tunnel in terms of grass-court experience.

The 24-year-old Frenchman, who has never played at Wimbledon and had come to Queen's having won just one of his three matches here, held out until his serve was broken in the eighth game. Henman broke again in the fifth and seventh games of the second set, faltered momentarily when he failed to serve out at 5-2, but wrapped matters up two games later with his fifth ace, his first having secured the first set.

Having worked out how to cope with the back condition which had troubled him for more than two years, Henman is now looking more like his old self. He is serving with more assurance than he has for years and has cut down on the forehand errors that have often let him down in the past.

His volleying remains as sound as ever and he is comfortable at last with the slower conditions that now prevail on grass. While he remains an attacking player who wants to get into the net whenever he can, he is more selective about when he goes forward and rarely plays serve-and-volley.

"To be playing as well as I have and to be feeling as comfortable out on the court is fantastic," Henman said. "I just want to keep building from it and see how much I can take out of this week, but it does give me a lot of confidence."

The only blot on Henman's landscape - though he insists he has no hang-ups about it - is the fact that Dmitry Tursunov will be his quarter-final opponent. His three matches against the 23-year-old Russian have all come in the last year, have all been in Grand Slam tournaments and have all ended in the same result.

Tursunov, the world No 33, won 8-6 in the final set in the second round at Wimbledon last year, in four sets in the first round at this year's Australian Open and in four sets in the second round of the French Open a fortnight ago.

The Russian, who was knocked out by David Nalbandian in the next round in Paris, was one of the first players to arrive at Queen's and practised here last week with Henman. The last player to turn up was Rafael Nadal, who was delayed by business matters in Paris, but the French Open champion was given the best possible work-out on grass yesterday by fellow Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco.

The Centre Court crowd were treated to a three-hour thriller as Verdasco, the world No 30, took the first set before losing 2-6, 7-6, 7-6. Verdasco had lengthy treatment for back and leg problems, and appeared to injure his groin in the third set, but constantly went for his shots. Nadal's opponent in today's quarter-finals will be Lleyton Hewitt, who also needed to win a third-set tie-break, against Max Mirnyi. Hewitt stretched Nadal before losing in four sets when they met on clay in the fourth round in Paris and will fancy his chances on a court where he has lifted the winner's trophy three times.