Happy Henman ready to banish bad memories

Tim Henman, hoping to build on 13 hours of mainly encouraging play on the clay courts of Monte Carlo, where he was a quarter-finalist in the singles and won the doubles title for a second time nine days ago, is here for the Rome Masters, in which he has lost in the first round on his previous two visits.

"I've never been beyond the third round here, but I've never had a problem playing back-to-back tournaments," Henman said.

The British No 1 is unlikely to forget the reason he played so badly in losing to Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, at the Foro Italico last year.

Henman's wife, Lucy, and their infant daughter, Rosie, were with him, and Rosie was making a lot of noise in her sleep. So Henman decided to use ear-plugs he had been given on the flight to Italy.

He slept well but when he got up on the morning of the match, he felt "a bit wobbly," and there was no improvement on the practice court. He thought he would feel better once the adrenalin started to flow in the match, but was exhausted after only three games.

"I went back to the hotel and thought I would be fine after good night's sleep," Henman recalled. "I jammed the ear-plugs in again and slept well. But when I woke up in the morning, I felt even worse." The doctor examined him and discovered he had damaged his middle ear. Henman is now able to look back on that trip as the end of the most worrying period in his career. The ear trouble cleared, and a week after the tournament in Rome, Henman competed at the Hamburg Masters and was able to serve without pain for the first time since surgery to his right shoulder in November 2002.

Having ended 2003 by winning the Paris Masters, Henman has been able to maintain his renewed aggression on all surfaces: fast, medium and slow.

Coria will not be in Rome this week, having strained his abdomen while winning the title in Monte Carlo. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerton are also absent. Henman, seeded No 4, is due to meet Florian Mayert, a German qualifier in the first round and is then projected to play either the Czech Radek Stepanek or the 2001 Wimbledon champion, Goran Ivanisevic, in the second.

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