Henman falls to Zabaleta's clay expertise

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The Independent Online

In common with Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, on Wednesday, Tim Henman played brilliantly for a set yesterday and then wilted in heavy conditions against an opponent prepared to bide his time on a clay court suited to his style.

In common with Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, on Wednesday, Tim Henman played brilliantly for a set yesterday and then wilted in heavy conditions against an opponent prepared to bide his time on a clay court suited to his style.

Mariano Zabaleta, of Argentina, may not aspire to the achievement of Albert Costa, who won the French Open in 2002, but he managed to mould a victory against Henman for the third time on clay. The previous occasions were in Hamburg, where the British No 1 goes next to complete his preparation for the French Open.

Zabaleta recovered after being on the wrong end of an almost embarrassing welter of superior play and won in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to the quarter-finals.

Henman won 12 of the opening 13 points to lead 3-0, helped by a double fault by Zabaleta at 0-40 in the second game. Serving and volleying with confidence, Henman was also able to torment with every other shot in his armoury. He dropped only five points off his serve in the first set, a period he will remember as the positive third of an otherwise disappointing afternoon.

The British No 1's fortunes seemed to turn on one misplaced shot - a smash into the net from the baseline for 15-40 in the second game of the second set. Broken in that game, Henman was unable to recover his earlier poise.

"I think I should have hit the approach shot behind him, because he's charging to the open court," Henman said afterwards. "If I go behind him, there's no way he's changing direction. But that's the position you want to be in. So once you're in that position, you back yourself to make it. I missed it."

Broken in the opening game of the third set, missing a forehand at 30-40, Henman took Zabaleta to deuce in the second game, but was unable to stem the Argentinian's flow of powerful forehands and deft drop-shots. Broken again for 4-1, Henman did well to save a match point at 5-1 before Zabaleta served the match out to love after one hour and 40 minutes.

"In the second and third sets, he raised his level and started to play so aggressively and consistently," Henman said. "I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and they were nullified a little bit. I think in the conditions I lost to the better player."

After three days of rain delays, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion and former world No 1, was beaten in the second round by Andrei Pavel, of Romania, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Hewitt was not pleased with the reaction his coach, Roger Rasheed, received on Monday when he asked the tournament director, Sergio Palmieri, for an early start to his first round match on Tuesday. "He just walked away from my coach," Hewitt said. "It was pretty disgraceful."

Palmieri, John McEnroe's former agent, said: "Hewitt's coach insulted me, but I don't care. He's supposed to be a coach and not the tournament director."

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