Henman celebrates end of Sampras hoodoo

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tim Henman's brow was still glistening with the perspiration of triumph when he was interviewed on American television on Thursday night and was asked by a young boy when was the best moment in his life. "One hundred and eighty seconds ago," Henman replied, reliving the satisfaction of at last hearing an umpire announce game, set and match in his favour against Pete Sampras.

Tim Henman's brow was still glistening with the perspiration of triumph when he was interviewed on American television on Thursday night and was asked by a young boy when was the best moment in his life. "One hundred and eighty seconds ago," Henman replied, reliving the satisfaction of at last hearing an umpire announce game, set and match in his favour against Pete Sampras.

Nobody beats Henman seven times in a row (to borrow Brad Gilbert's reaction to a win against John McEnroe in 1986), and the British No 1 played exceptionally well to prevail against Sampras, 6-3, 6-4, on a medium-pace rubberised concrete court in the third round of the ATP Tour Masters Series tournament in Cincinnati.

Appropriately, Henman's purple patch was performed on a purple court, the ATP's choice to differentiate the Master Series from their other run-of-the-millionaire events. Henman hardly missed a ball after recovering from 1-3 in the opening set. He was particularly sharp in response to Sampras's second serve, taking the ball early and dipping it to the defending champion's feet.

Some of Henman's passing shots were excellent, and there was little sign of a problem with nerves on his serve until he had to make four second deliveries in the concluding game (serving for the match against Sampras is not an everyday occurrence).

"I felt like I've had some pretty close matches against Pete in the times that we've played," the 15th-seeded Henman said, "but I gave myself another chance [to beat him], and this time I was able to take it."

Sampras has aged a year today, although that is because it is his 29th birthday rather than the result of any negative reaction to the defeat by Henman or the fact that he had to call the doctor to the court during the second set, when he began to feel pain in his lower-back (apparently he had forgotten to take pain-killing tablets before the match).

It is important to keep Henman's win in perspective. Defeating a player he respects above all others is bound to be of huge psychological importance to the 25-year-old from Oxfordshire, although he is wise enough to know that Sampras was not at his best.

Nor was the Californian unduly worried about losing a match while preparing himself for the greater challenge of the United States Open, the latest of the Grand Slam championships, of which Sampras has won a record 13. He has decided not to play in the RCA Championships in Indianapolis next week for fear of subjecting himself to too much tennis before the US Open.

At the same time, Sampras gave Henman credit. "We know he's got the game," he said. "I've always said it. I've practised with Tim enough where he hold his own easily and beats you quite a number of times. It's just a matter of putting that into practice in the matches, and he did that tonight."

Greg Rusedski, who is hoping to recover from a recurrence of a foot injury in time to compete at the US Open, which starts on 28 August, will have a good idea how happy Henman feels about beating Sampras. Rusedski, the British No 2, had a similar success in the final of the 1998 Paris Indoor Master Series.

Three of Henman's previous duels with Sampras took place on the Wimbledon lawns, where results matter most in the eyes of both players. Sampras won in straight sets in the second round in 1995 and in four sets in the semi-finals in 1998 and 1999.

This year, when Sampras was troubled less by his opponents than by a sore shin en route to defeating Australia's Pat Rafter in the final, Henman, competing in the opposite half of the draw to his friend and rival, lost to Australia's Mark Philippoussis in five sets in the fourth round.

The fact is that only the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion, has managed to beat Sampras at Wimbledon in the past eight years.

Comments