Henin loses but Henman stays focused

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The Independent Online

While the power of mind over matter can make the difference between champions and also-rans, a narrow margin separates the hardy from the foolhardy.

While the power of mind over matter can make the difference between champions and also-rans, a narrow margin separates the hardy from the foolhardy.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, the women's world No 1, exemplified the athlete's dilemma here in Paris yesterday, when the defence of her French Open singles title ended in a second round defeat, 7-5, 6-4, by the 86th-ranked Tathiana Garbin, of Italy. The only other defending champion to be eliminated so early on the slow red clay here was Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1990.

It was Henin's first tournament since being diagnosed with the glandular condition, cytomegalovirus, in mid-April. She admits that she probably came back too soon and needs more rest. But Wimbledon remains in her sights.

Henin did not complain after her gamble failed. "It hasn't been easy to recover from the problem I had," she said, "but I have no regrets. I don't want to find any excuse. I wasn't the player I have been for 12 months, but Tathiana played a very good match. It was my bad day and it was her great day."

Wimbledon, as ever, is Tim Henman's main goal, and although the viral infection he is carrying cannot be compared with Henin's debilitating recent illness, the British No 1 had an ECG (electrocardiograph) after his five-set opening match on Monday against Cyril Saulnier, of France.

"They said the only thing you have to worry about with a virus is if it is affecting your heart," Henman said. "But they said that was all fine; basically said, 'Get on with it.' That's the attitude I have to have."

Yesterday, though feeling no better, the 29-year-old from Oxfordshire played an all-out attacking game to expedite his second-round match against Lars Burgsmüller, of Germany, which he won, 6-0, 6-3, 6-3, after only 92 minutes. Tomorrow he plays Galo Blanco, of Spain, in his attempt to advance to the fourth round for the first time .

"You can't always feel your best, whether you've got a niggle or you just don't feel great," Henman said. "You've just got to get on with it. For the last three sets in my first-round match and, obviously, for today, that's the best way to approach it. If I can still play that level of tennis, why can't I progress?"

Henman's philosophy echoed the grimace-and-bear-it theme of the tournament. Andy Roddick, the US Open champion, seeded No 2, who fought the effects of a stomach virus in defeating his American compatriot, Todd Martin, in straight sets on Monday, followed Henin out of the tournament yesterday, losing to Oliver Mutis, of France, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Roddick was the last American in the men's draw. Mutis, ranked 125, had not won a match all year until he arrived at the home of French tennis.

The indefatigable Fabrice Santoro kept the French cheers rolling. Not content with defeating his compatriot Arnaud Clement in the longest match in history - six hours 33 minutes - on Tuesday, Santor spent another three hours 22 minutes on court yesterday, defeating Irakli Labadze, of Georgia, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Blanco's clay-court game bamboozled Henman when the Spaniard won their first meeting in two sets in Monte Carlo in 1998. "At the end of the match I basically had had my back against the fence and was just moon-balling to see whether that did any good," he recalled. By 2002, however, Henman had become wise enough to adapt his attacking style to clay, and defeated Blanco in the first round here, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.

"It took a while to really understand what my assets were on this surface," Henman said. "My game is not particularly demanding on my body. I'm moving pretty easily, trying to keep the points fairly short."

The 91st-ranked Burgsmüller salvaged only eight points in the opening, 20-minute set. Henman saved two break points in the second game of the second set before breaking in the seventh and ninth games. Henman cracked Burgsmüller for 4-2 in the third set, and although the German defended stoutly to save two match points at 5-2, Henman served out the match to love on his third match point.