It is the autumn of his career but there is a spring in Tim Henman's step. The 32-year-old British No 2, fresh from his run to the final in Tokyo earlier this month, beat a higher-ranked Spaniard for the second day in succession here last night to reach the third round of the Madrid Masters, a tournament in which he had never previously won two matches in a row.
Although he had swept aside Fernando Verdasco, the world No 26, in straight sets the previous night, Henman's 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 victory over David Ferrer was even more impressive. Even if Ferrer has been in poor form recently, the world No 15 has been one of the most consistent players this year, reaching the quarter-finals or better of four Masters series tournaments.
Henman, the world No 41, let his level slip in the second set, but played beautifully in the first and third, serving with pace and variety, volleying with his usual fine touch and looking especially dangerous on the return. At times he was standing two feet inside the baseline on Ferrer's second serve and the 24-year-old Spaniard was continually flummoxed by Henman's supremely confident chip-and-charge game.
"It's a tactic that's been working really well," Henman said. "The vast majority of these guys don't like it. When you come in time and time again and put the pressure on, they just don't have time to breathe and find the rhythm that they're accustomed to.
"Even when I lost the second set, I still played some good tennis. And whenever I was getting a chance to come forward and put pressure on him, I knew it was something that he didn't like. It was fantastic. I couldn't be happier."
While Ferrer described it as one of the worst days of his career, Henman enjoyed himself so much that he occasionally looked up between points to see the replay on the big TV screen. "In the past I've been the one saying, 'Turn it off', because it's a distraction," Henman said. "Now I hit a couple of good shots and I quite fancy seeing them again."
Henman jarred a knee and had blisters on his toes, but he has a rest day before tomorrow's third-round match against David Nalbandian, who last night defeated Julien Benneteau of France, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5.
Home advantage clearly did not help Ferrer. Indeed, there were large gaps in the crowd, many locals having deserted the main arena to watch Rafael Nadal play doubles on an adjoining court.
Ferrer failed to convert three break points in the opening game and from 1-1 Henman won five games in succession. He played a loose second set but quickly resumed control in the third, breaking serve twice to go 3-0 up. He sealed victory in appropriate fashion, Ferrer netting a forehand in the face of another chip-and-charge onslaught.
The second day's proceedings had been delayed by 45 minutes because of rain, which could well be a first for an indoor event. Water had got on to the court after heavy overnight downpours.
At least the first match finished quickly. Gaël Monfils was a set up against Dominik Hrbaty when he retired hurt with an ankle injury. The 20-year-old Frenchman celebrated a winning point at 2-2 in the second set by leaping into the air but crumpled to the floor on landing and strained his right ankle. After a delay of several minutes he left in a wheelchair.
Roger Federer, playing here for the first time for three years, and Andy Roddick opened with straightforward victories over Nicolas Massu and Sébastien Grosjean respectively.