Henman a cut above in build-up for Melbourne

Always meticulous with his preparation, Tim Henman has had his hair cut short, knowing from experience that when a new baby arrives there is not much time for a doting father to visit the barber's shop.

Always meticulous with his preparation, Tim Henman has had his hair cut short, knowing from experience that when a new baby arrives there is not much time for a doting father to visit the barber's shop.

His wife, Lucy, is due to give birth to their second child in the next two weeks, so, after raising £80,000 for his charity, "Kids at Heart", at the Tennis Champions Masters here, the British No 1 has packed away his rackets and is concentrating on family matters.

Soon enough, the 30-year-old from Oxfordshire will return to the practice court and work to build on his best season-ending ranking of No 6. He has decided to skip the ATP tournament in Qatar next month and instead play in an exhibition event at Kooyong, Melbourne, on the eve of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Having gained his biggest successes outside Wimbledon last year, reaching the semi-finals at both the French Open and the US Open, Henman hopes to make his presence felt at the year's first Grand Slam, where he has yet to advance beyond the fourth round.

Henman has reached an age where "maintenance work on the body" is as important as strokeplay and strategy. He plans to do more warm-up exercises, particularly stretching. "I've not paid enough attention to that," he said. "But now I find that my back stiffens up."

In his 10 years on the ATP Tour, Henman has had surgery on an ankle, and elbow and a shoulder, all of which healed well enough to cause him no further problems other than twinges on cold days.

"All athletes have to deal with injuries," Henman said, "but, when you're younger, you don't always take as much care of your body. You just can't wait to get into a match. I'm taking steps to take better care of myself."

Henman enjoyed the unique ambience at the Albert Hall on Tuesday night, even though he lost a charity set against Joachim Johansson, a 22-year-old from Sweden, 10-8. Whether Henman eventually joins the seniors' Delta Tour of Champions remains to be seen. He has always believed that his later involvement in tennis would take another direction.

"Because my career developed later, there's no reason why I can't play longer [on the ATP Tour] if I stay healthy," Henman said. "I still want to be involved in tennis when I finish at the highest level, but doing something different. But you hear how some players who have stopped playing want to come back, so I would never write it off."

Pete Sampras, who retired in 2001 with a record 14 singles titles to his name, is the latest to consider playing with the old-timers. Henman said he had spoken to Sampras through his coach, Paul Annacone. "It seems there might be a possibility of Pete playing, even if it's a slim one."

As the 39-year-old Pat Cash pointed out yesterday: "There's a fine line between working hard enough to play good tennis and doing so much work that you feel that you're back on the ATP Tour again."

Cash won his opening round-robin match at the Masters yesterday, eliminating Henri Leconte, 6-4, 6-2. The Frenchman, who lost a tight opening match against Jim Courier, had little more to offer than a few spectacular shots blended with comedy yesterday in a match akin to Crocodile Dundee versus Jacques Tati.

"It's fun," Cash said. "But you don't know which Henri is going to come out. One day he's great, next day he's crap. And while wondering which Henri I was going to play, I also wondered how good my game was going to be. It came out OK." It did - but only after the 1987 Wimbledon champion had survived four double-faults and four break points in the opening game.

Guy Forget, France's Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain, arrived from Moscow, where his Fed Cup team lost 3-2 to Russia in the final, and vented his frustration on Mats Wilander, defeating the Swede, 6-3, 6-4.

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