Henman encouraged despite defeat to Nadal

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The Independent Online

He may have failed to repeat his heroics of the night before but Tim Henman was still looking on the bright side after his quarter-final defeat by Rafael Nadal in the Dubai Duty Free Open here yesterday.

Henman lost 7-6, 6-1 in his first meeting with the world No 2 but he has halted the slide in his rankings, boosted his bank balance and, most importantly, played well in three matches against high-quality opponents without suffering a recurrence of the back problems which have threatened his career. He will return to No 2 in the British rankings next week, ahead of Greg Rusedski, and will be just one point behind Andy Murray, who replaced him this week as No 1.

Nadal has had his own health worries and is playing only his second tournament following a three-month absence with a foot injury. He is improving with every match, however, and if he beats Rainer Schüttler in the semi-finals today he should set up a fascinating final tomorrow against Roger Federer. The world No 1 beat the Czech Robin Vik 6-3, 6-2 in less than an hour yesterday to earn a semi-final against Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.

For three-quarters of yesterday's match there was little to choose between Nadal and Henman, who had made an excellent comeback from 5-2 down in the final set to beat Radek Stepanek the previous evening. The Briton continued to serve well, having made a slight alteration to his action to combat his back problem, attacked the net and denied Nadal any rhythm with his sweeping ground strokes.

Having wasted the five break points he had early in the first set, Henman saved four set points at 5-3 and broke back in the following game, only to be comprehensively outplayed in the tie-break, which Nadal won 7-1. Henman still had his chances, but from 1-1 in the second set, with Nadal 40-0 down on his serve, the Spaniard won 13 points in a row to take a decisive grip on the match. He said afterwards that he was delighted to have beaten a player he regards as "one of the best in the world".

Henman said that he took encouragement from the way he had dictated play in the early stages, but regretted his missed chances.

"I feel frustrated with the outcome and somewhat disappointed with my performance, but in the context of playing a guy ranked No 2 in the world it's obviously a good sign that I'm actually feeling that way about my game," he said. "It's been a very positive week. My back has been excellent. I've just got to keep building and building from now."

* Bjorn Borg is selling his five Wimbledon trophies and the rackets with which he beat Ilie Nastase in the 1976 final and John McEnroe in 1980. They will be sold at Bonhams in London in June and are expected to raise around £300,000.

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