Henman finds edge to puncture Sanchez

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman will today attempt to advance to the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters for the third time in a row, underlining his liking for the clay courts here, where he won the doubles title in 1999, partnering the Frenchman Olivier Delaître.

Tim Henman will today attempt to advance to the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters for the third time in a row, underlining his liking for the clay courts here, where he won the doubles title in 1999, partnering the Frenchman Olivier Delaître.

The British No 1 must first overcome Nicolas Massu, of Chile, one of the four players he defeated en route to the semi-finals in 2002, the others being the Argentinians Guillermo Coria and Juan Ignacio Chela and Thomas Johansson, of Sweden.

What concerns Henman, who missed the tournament last year when he was rehabilitating after shoulder surgery, is that the hard-pressure balls being used this week make it difficult for him to replicate the form he displayed two years ago. On that occasion, he was unlucky to lose to Carlos Moya in turbulent conditions on a Saturday of rain delays.

"The ball [used then] was much heavier," Henman said, "and I felt you could flatten your shots out and be very aggressive. A lot of the time it was effective to bring the opponent in to the net. This ball changes the dynamics. You've got to be very careful with the one where you play a short slice to bring your opponent in, because if you don't get it spot-on, the ball's bouncing up a lot higher."

Awkward bounces have been accentuated during the sixth-seeded Henman's progress through his two matches, an "ugly" three-set win against the American Vince Spadea, followed by the prolonged agony of finishing off the Spaniard David Sanchez yesterday, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

Although the quality of yesterday's match was higher - "I'd like to think it couldn't have got much worse," Henman said - the 56th-ranked Sanchez was too tame with his second serve and too timid with some of his overheads to justify being in contention for more than two hours.

Henman won the opening three games of the first set and looked settled in the role of aggressor, in spite of having to save two break points at 3-1 and a third when serving for the set at 5-3. After breaking in the opening game of the second set, Henman invited the Spaniard into the match by failing to hold serve in the second game.

"That was the only bad game I played in the first two sets," said Henman, who, peversely, deserved thanks for allowing the second set to lead to a thrilling tie-break in which he recovered after losing the first four points and then battled through five set points before Sanchez converted the sixth for 10-8.

After that, the Spaniard let down like a slow puncture - "Perhaps he sensed a little bit of relief that he'd got to a third set," Henman suggested - and there was no sign of a repair until Henman had won the first five games of the final set. Henman, broken after creating two match points while serving for the match at 5-1, converted his third match point in the ninth game.

Massu, ranked No 11, chiefly on the strength of having reached the final of the Madrid Masters last October, had been out of form this season until he arrived here. Should Henman prevail today, and if Lleyton Hewitt is able to get his act together against Rainer Schüttler, of Germany, the quarter-finals will bring Henman an opportunity to improve his 0-7 record against the Australian former Wimbledon and US Open champion.

Hewitt, who came back from a set down in his opening match, had an even more torrid time yesterday, recovering from 6-1, 3-0 down and saving two match points before overhauling Gaston Gaudio, of Argentina, 1-6, 7-6, 6-1.

* Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, was defeated in the first round of the Burmuda Open by the 175th-ranked Bjorn Phau, of Germany, 7-6, 6-3.

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