Henman fires amid models furore

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman, in common with Michael Owen, has found the target here at last. The British No 1, beaten in his opening matches on two previous visits to the Madrid Masters, defeated Albert Costa, of Spain, yesterday, 6-4, 6-2.

The win held particular significance for Henman, for it was his first match as the No 1 seed at an ATP Masters Series tournament, and nudged him closer to qualification for the Masters Cup in Houston next month.

Henman, who was given a bye in the first round, now plays Ivan Ljubicic, of Croatia, for a place in the quarter-finals. Ljubicic, ranked 29th, defeated Rainer Schüttler, of Germany, in the second round, 6-3, 6-0. Like Henman, Ljubicic is an attacking player, and the outcome may depend on which of them makes the most of the swift, capricious, flight of the balls at altitude.

Against Costa, the 2002 French Open champion, Henman dictated play with his serves and volleys, for the most part. He won the opening three games - saving four break points and hitting five aces in the second - before exchanging breaks with Costa. Serving for the set for the first time, Henman was broken from 5-2, 30-0, and he had to save a break point before serving out at 5-4.

In the second set, Henman broke for 2-1, salvaged the fourth game after double-faulting to 15-40, and made the decisive break for 5-2. Henman could not blame any lapses on being distracted by model ball-girls, because they were not on duty for his match.

"Disappointing," Henman said, smiling. Others, however, have taken issue with the catwalk retrievers.

Soledad Murillo, the secretary of state for political equality, sent a petition to the tournament director, Manuel Santana, the 1966 Wimbledon champion, regretting the "sexist use of the image of women" and asking him to stop using the models as ball-girls.

"They contribute to create a clear discriminatory vision of women, who appear as simple objects of decoration and entertainment," Murillo said, adding that she had sent a copy of the petition to the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon. Ines Sabanes, a left-wing Madrid politician, agreed with Murillo and said employing the women was "sexist and frivolous."

"It's all getting a a bit serious, isn't it?" Henman said. "I think it's something different. They certainly look good from where I've been sitting." Andre Agassi, who had to tell one of the model ball-girls she was standing in the wrong place during his match against Max Mirnyi, said: "It was difficult, to say the least, to concentrate on the ball. I think it's important for our sport to understand its product clearly, and I'm not quite convinced it's part of our product."

Santana said the tournament had not had any complaints from the ATP, which runs the men's tour, or the players. "These models are working for a commercial company," Santana said. "The models had to qualify to do the job, and they can do the job. But they only work for one televised match a day and they are not taking the place of the other ball-boys and ball-girls. I don't see it as any different from what is done in other sports, like Formula One and basketball."

Gerard Tsobanian, the commercial organiser of the tournament, said: "We wanted something new. It's decoration, like putting nice flowers on the court. This is not machista. We want to have a women's a tournament here also. For that we would use male models."

Mercedes Munoz, co-ordinator of the 25 models, said: "The idea of the model being dumb is declining. We are able, like everybody, to do good things with good training. By our work we promote a company. That is what models do as models." Hugo Boss must think that they, not Henman, top the seedings.