Henman finds Stepanek is a pain in the neck

Radek Stepanek, a 26-year-old Czech, fleet of foot and fast of hands, completed the double against the British No 1 at the Madrid Masters yesterday, though he rolled his head so much to ease the pain that it was a wonder it did not fall off.

A three-set win against Henman in the second round in Vienna in the early hours of last Thursday helped to raise Stepanek's ranking to No 14 in the world, and his 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory in the second round here yesterday will nudge him towards the top 10.

When Greg Rusedski, the British No2, was beaten after three tie-breaks in the first round by Ivo Karlovic, he predicted the giant Croat would give Andy Roddick, the second seed, a hard time. He was right. Last night, the American was defeated 3-6, 7-6, 7-6. Roddick complained about line calls but the result was in his hands when he held a match point in the second set.

Stepanek is the player who was beaten by the 18-year-old Andy Murray in the second round at Wimbledon, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, and had lost to Henman four times in a row before last week's match in Vienna. He also happens to be the last top-20 player to lose to Henman (Stepanek was ranked 18th when Henman beat him, 7-5, 6-3, in the fourth round in Key Biscayne, Florida, in March). So what does this say about the 31-year-old Henman? That his days as a top-flight player are numbered (he is currently ranked 26th)? He did not play badly in Vienna. Nor did he yesterday, when he was good in flashes. But every defeat increases the doubt that he will improve on his 11 ATP Tour singles titles. "I think I'm a better player [than Stepanek]," Henman said. "I don't want to sound flippant, but in the context of where I'm at, I played some good tennis today, and I came second. I'm not going to dwell on it any more than that."

Sounding upbeat has become second nature to Henman, who emphasises that he is enjoying everything about his game except the results. He says he is excited about preparing for next season after his final tournaments of the year, in Basle next week and Paris the week after.

"I want to play well the next couple of weeks," Henman said. " If I do, great. If I don't, big deal. I'm ready to wipe the slate clean. I've already got my plans in place for December. There's a five-week stretch where I've got no sponsor commitments, no disruptions."

There was a bonus for the tournament yesterday when Rafael Nadal, the 19-year-old French Open champion and world No 2 from Majorca, allayed concerns over tendinitis in his left knee by winning his opening match against Victor Hanescu, of Romania, 7-6, 6-3. Nadal also said he is committed to playing the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club for the next two years. "It is the best preparation for Wimbledon, especially to stay in the same city," he said.

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions