Henman faces tough start against Spadea

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Tim Henman, a semi-finalist on his last visit to the Monte Carlo Masters two years ago, is preparing to open the clay-court season here with a first-round match against Vince Spadea, an American on a mission.

The 29-year-old Spadea, a player in form who was overlooked in favour of the younger Mardy Fish for the United States Davis Cup team that defeated Sweden in the quarter-finals this month (Fish lost to Jonas Bjorkman in the opening rubber), remains hopeful of making his debut against Belarus in the semi-finals in September.

Spadea also advanced to the semi-finals on his last appearance in Monte Carlo a year ago, losing to Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, the eventual champion. Henman at that time was recovering from a minor setback in his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery. In 2002, Henman was defeated in the semi-finals here by Carlos Moya, of Spain, at the end of a cold day of rain delays.

Although Henman has won two of his three previous matches against Spadea, they were played too long ago to be relevant. Spadea won the first, in straight sets in the semi-finals of a Challenger event on an American concrete court in Winnetka in 1994. Henman defeated Spadea in straight sets on a concrete court in the quarter-finals of the Tashkent tournament in 1997, and on clay in straight sets in the first round of the 2000 French Open.

Spadea was then in the worst form his career, a sequence of 21 consecutive defeats that was ended by his five-set victory over Greg Rusedski in the first round of that year's Wimbledon.

Henman, the sixth seed, is projected to meet Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian former Wimbledon champion and former world No 1, in the quarter-finals. Hewitt has won all seven of their previous matches.

A doubles champion in Monte Carlo in 1999, with Olivier Delaitre, of France, Henman will this week be partnered in the competition by Nenad Zimonjic, a 6ft 4in Serbian.