Henman has to stay cool in warm-up for Roddick

It was overcast and chilly at the Westside Tennis Club here yesterday morning when Tim Henman went out to practice for the Masters Cup. Given the forecast of rain over the next few days, the British No 1 was just pleased to be hitting the ball.

President Bush's family are particularly influential in these parts, but can do nothing about the weather. The same goes for their pal Jim McIngvale, a furniture tycoon rejoicing in the nickname "Mattress Mack", who built and owns the splendid tennis club.

This is McIngvale's second and concluding presentation of the Masters Cup, which is staged on an outdoor concrete court here because, even at this time of the year, Houston is usually sunnyside up. Yesterday, the organisers and the television networks, including Eurosport, looked at the clouds and prayed that the tournament does not go belly up.

The top eight players on the ATP Tour are primed for action in two groups of four for the round-robin stage of the singles event, and eight doubles teams are also tapping their racket strings. Looking on the bright side, it is possible that conditions may have improved by tomorrow night, when Henman is due to play his opening match against the only American to qualify, the world No 2, Andy Roddick.

Today's programme is due to start with Roger Federer, the defending champion and the winner this year of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, against Gaston Gaudio, of Argentina, the winner of the French Open.

The 34-year-old Andre Agassi's failure to qualify makes Henman the oldest player in the tournament at 30. Henman previously qualified in 1998, when he reached the semi-finals.

Having arrived last Wednesday, Henman is pleased with his preparation, including a practice session with Federer. "It's been a little bit colder than I expected," Henman said. "That makes the balls heavier. They don't fly around so much."

Henman has won three of his four previous matches against Roddick, the Briton's latest success being in the semi-finals at Indian Wells last March. Roddick's win was in the first round of the 2003 US Open.

¿ Lindsay Davenport defeated her fellow American Serena Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the season-ending WTA Tour Championships at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but failed to qualify for the semi-finals while her defeated opponent did so. Both players finished with two wins and a defeat, but because Williams had won one more set in her three matches she went through. The other semi-finalists are Anastasia Myskina and Maria Sharapova, of Russia, and the Frenchwoman Amélie Mauresmo.

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