Henman digs for victory in unfamiliar territory

It is astonishing that Tim Henman should be only three giant strides away from winning the French Open title when he has not advanced beyond the third round in eight previous visits to the slow, red, alien clay courts of Paris.

It is astonishing that Tim Henman should be only three giant strides away from winning the French Open title when he has not advanced beyond the third round in eight previous visits to the slow, red, alien clay courts of Paris.

Were Henman in familiar quarter-final territory on his beloved Wimbledon lawns, people would be shouting their expectation from the rooftops of SW19. When he plays Juan Ignacio Chela, of Argentina, here today on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier, the only pressure the British No 1 is likely to feel will come from within, born of ambition and pride.

There are no more contrasting figures in the last eight than Henman, a Britisher digging for victory, and Gustavo Kuerten, a Brazilian in pursuit of his fourth crown. They are styles apart, are featured in opposite halves of the draw, and do not even have ailments in common. Henman says he is feeling better after playing through four rounds with a viral infection, while Kuerten frets that a hip injury that has troubled him for three years may flare up again and handicap his chances.

That would be a pity, for Kuerten and the spectators, because so far the idolised Brazilian has served like a demon, buying time for his searing groundstrokes. Since the second game of the opening set of his third-round win against Roger Federer, the Swiss world No 1 and Wimbledon champion, Kuerten has faced only one break point in his last 30 service games.

Feliciano Lopez, of Spain, Kuerten's fourth-round opponent yesterday, managed to convert that point as the Brazilian served for the second set at 5-3. It did not make much difference, as Kuerten went on to win, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, after an hour and 52 minutes.

Asked by your correspondent if he was surprised to see Henman in the last eight, Kuerten said: "In one way, I am a little bit surprised. But after I reached the quarter-finals in Wimbledon [in 1999] I knew everything was possible, because I think it was much tougher for me to get that far there and for him here.

"He's had a couple of results already on clay - not very significant - but he managed to win good matches. And I think he had a good draw to get to the quarter-finals. He managed to fight back twice from two sets to love, so this is already enough for him to deserve this achievement.

"These challenges bring us expectations and goals. At the same time, I see myself going out there and trying to have some fun. I think it's the same way that Tim comes around here and believes in himself. [On Sunday] I saw him losing sets and coming back and trying to enjoy himself a little bit more."

The master reminded us of the qualities, aside from stamina, needed for success on clay: "First, to play well on this surface, you have to be technically perfect. You cannot have a gap in your game that your opponent would take advantage of. It's a little bit slower, so you have the time to place the balls closer to the lines."

In his quarter-final tomorrow, Kuerten, seeded No 28, will need to be accurate with his shots when he plays David Nalbandian, seeded No 8, one of four Argentinians in the last eight, along with the third-seeded Guillermo Coria, the 22nd-seeded Chela, and the unseeded Gaston Gaudio.

By defeating Russia's Marat Safin, the 20th seed, yesterday, the 22-year-old Nalbandian completed his list of quarter-final appearances at all four Grand Slam championships (in 2002 he was the runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon).

Beaten by Safin in their previous four matches, including the third round here in 2002, Nalbandian had a clear advantage yesterday against an opponent who called for the trainer six times to treat raw blisters on both hands. Safin survived for four sets, Nalbandian winning, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.

With his dashing moustache and Van Dyke beard, Safin had a look of D'Artagnan. The Russian's hirsute coach, Peter Lundgren, suffering in the stands, resembled Porthos. Not much can been done for a duellist who cannot hold a sword.

"It's the first time in my life I've had blisters like that." Safin said. "I was really suffering. I couldn't do many things. I had to change the tape on my fingers all the time. I couldn't take my chances, and he was playing pretty good tennis."

Hewitt, the 12th seed, advanced to the quarter-finals for the second time, defeating Xavier Malisse, of Belgium, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6, winning the tie-break, 8-6. Hewitt will now play Gaudio, who defeated Igor Andreev, of Russia, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Last week, Andreev was the toast of Moscow after eliminating the defending champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, in the second round.

BRITONS WHO FLIRTED WITH GLORY IN FRANCE

Britons who have played in the men's singles quarter-finals at the French Championships since the Second World War

1959: Bill Knight lost to Nicola Pietrangeli, of Italy, the eventual champion.

1963: Bobby Wilson lost to Pierre Darmon, of France, the eventual runner-up.

1963: Mike Sangster reached the semi-finals, losing to Australia's Roy Emerson, the eventual champion.

1973: Roger Taylor lost to Ilie Nastase, of Romania, the eventual champion.

2004: Tim Henman plays Juan Ignacio Chela (Argentina) today.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments