The new British No 3 opened his campaign in the Dubai Duty Free Open here yesterday with an emphatic victory that bodes well for the months ahead. It was a performance that could have Andy Murray fretting over how much longer he can hold on to his status as the country's leading player.
Tim Henman says he attaches little importance to the national order and waking up yesterday as Britain's third best player, having spent the previous seven years as No 1, clearly did not affect his tennis. Henman, who at No 49 in the rankings is now seven places behind Murray and six behind Greg Rusedski, hardly put a foot wrong as he beat Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 7-6.
Both Henman and Lopez are regarded as serve-and-volley specialists, but the Briton played a cannily cautious game against an opponent who mixes flamboyant winning shots with careless errors.
Henman broke in the fourth game when Lopez made three mistakes in a row and two double-faults in succession gave the 31-year-old Briton the eighth game and the first set.
Lopez had won only two points against serve in the first set but broke when Henman played a sloppy game at 1-1 in the second. Henman broke back to level at 5-5 and had one match point before the set went to a tie-break. Lopez went 3-0 up, but a poor backhand and a lazy volley gave Henman a double break. The Spaniard saved three more match points before netting a forehand on the fifth.
Henman, who reported no problems with his troublesome back, said: "I played the first set very solidly but he was making so many unforced errors. Then I played one or two loose points on the 1-1 game in the second set and that gave him a lot of confidence. I felt I just had to be patient and keep holding my serve."
The draw was less kind to Rusedski, who was beaten 7-6, 6-0 by Andre Agassi. In a tight first set, both players held serve before the American won the tie-break with a single service break courtesy of a beautiful backhand return.
Injuries have restricted Agassi to only two tournaments since the US Open and he took time to find his touch here. In the second set, however, his shots began to flow and by the end Rusedski appeared to be thinking ahead to his flight home today to his wife and month-old baby daughter.