Henman has skills to flush Coria from baseline lair

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The Independent Online

Two factors are in Tim Henman's favour here today as the British No 1 attempts to defeat Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, to give himself a chance of advancing beyond the round-robin stage at the Masters Cup.

Two factors are in Tim Henman's favour here today as the British No 1 attempts to defeat Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, to give himself a chance of advancing beyond the round-robin stage at the Masters Cup.

One is that Coria, who had been out of action for four months after shoulder surgery, did not serve well enough to hinder Marat Safin in his opening match on Tuesday. The other is that Henman remembers how, for a set and a half, he had the measure of Coria in the semi-finals of the French Open last June.

Henman's boldness on the clay at Roland Garros disrupted the fleet-footed Coria's defensive skills until the slight competitor from Rufino regrouped and picked Henman off with passing shots.

Against Coria on the medium-paced concrete court at Houston's Westside Tennis Club, Henman will have to balance aggression with vigilance. On the basis of his display in losing to Andy Roddick, 7-5, 7-6 in a splendid contest on Tuesday night, he has the confidence to ensure that his concluding group match against Safin is meaningful.

Playing Roddick, the American world No 2 with the fastest serve on record, twinned with a pulverising forehand, is, of course, a different proposition to flushing Coria from his baseline lair. Indeed, Roddick beat Henman at the Briton's own game on Tuesday, volleying with gusto and proving equally dangerous with his backhand as his forehand.

Not that Henman was ever out of contention, as Roddick emphasised by applauding several of his opponent's shots and looking distinctly uncomfortable at times. But not on the big points.

Henman created the first opportunities with Roddick serving at 5-5 in the opening set. At 15-40, after missing his first serve, Roddick smacked a line with a cross-court backhand drive. The American then erased the second break point with an unreturnable serve.

In the next game, Roddick unhinged Henman to take the set with three stunning passes down the line. "I definitely pulled something out of the hat there," the American said.

Henman saw the possibility of a break point during a rally at deuce in the sixth game of the second set, only to smash the ball wide after unsettling Roddick with consecutive volleys.

It was disappointing that Henman was unable to force a third set after leading 5-2 in the tie-break. Roddick served his way to 4-5 and then cracked Henman with consecutive returns to hold his first match point at 6-5. Henman responded, returning a second serve down the line.

Roddick converted his second match point, for 8-6, with a service return that Henman redirected over the baseline.

"I have no complaints about the way that I played," Henman said. "It's certainly the best I've played since the US Open. Losing is never fun, but when you play and compete as I did, and you come up a little short, you can't second guess yourself. You say, 'too good' to Andy.

"I heard that Coria's still struggling a bit with his shoulder. He's still so quick and solid from the baseline, but I'll be ready for the challenge."

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