Henman hits vintage form in title march

British No 1 on course for Masters Cup place after impressive demolition of Federer in Swiss final
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The Independent Online

Tim Henman won the Davidoff Swiss Indoor title in Basle for the second time yesterday, defeating Roger Federer in his home town, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. The British No 1, who went through the tournament without dropping a set, is now favourite to secure the one remaining place in the field of eight for the Masters Cup in Sydney on 12 November.

He is due to arrive in Paris today to compete in the last Masters Series event of the season, at the Palais Omnisports, Bercy. Given a first-round bye as a seeded player (No 8), Henman is due to play the winner of the first-round match between Andrei Pavel, of Romania, and Julien Boutter, a French wild card. If the seedings go to plan, Henman and Federer will duel for a place in the quarter-finals.

Henman has won all four of his matches against the 20-year-old Swiss, yesterday's victory proving to be second in importance only to his four-set win in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in July, after Federer had eliminated Pete Sampras, the seven-times champion, in the previous round. The $137,000 winner's prize in Basle [£98,000] was accompanied by 50 world ranking points that nudged Henman closer to the ATP Tour's Sydney showpiece. "It's a very satisfying result," Henman said. "I didn't put a foot wrong all day."

The 27-year-old from Oxfordshire was seeded No 2 in Basle, Federer No 4. Henman seized the opportunity to win his second title of the season before his success in Copenhagen in February became a blurred memory. His previous triumph in Basle, in 1998, was against Andre Agassi. The following year, Henman lost in the final to Karol Kucera, of Slovakia.

Henman, with the help of his coach, Larry Stefanki, has worked hard to improve the consistency of his serve, and there were few lapses yesterday, 71 per cent of his first deliveries hitting the target. "That's the aspect of the game I'm most pleased with," Henman said, "and when I'm volleying so well behind the serve, it's a very good combination."

Confident of holding his own serve, Henman broke Federer in the sixth game of the opening set and in the fourth game of the second set, and won five games in a row after Federer held at the start of the third set. "It wasn't a case of me being tired," said Federer, who was tearful during the closing ceremony, his disappointment compounded by memories of his loss to Thomas Enqvist, of Sweden, in last year's final. "Tim just played very well today and there was nothing I could do about it."

"I'm going to Paris full of confidence, because this has improved my position," Henman said. "But the job isn't finished yet. There's plenty to play for in Paris."

Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, is not among the contenders for Sydney, but he hopes to give a good account of himself in the Paris tournament that he won in 1998 when he beat Pete Sampras on the final. Rusedski plays in the first round today against Xavier Malisse, of Belgium, who defeated Henman in the third round of the United States Open.

Goran Ivanisevic became the sixth player to qualify for the Masters Cup yesterday. The Wimbledon champion joins Agassi, winner of the Australian Open, the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, who won the French Open, the US Open winner Lleyton Hewitt, another Australian, Pat Rafter, and the Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero.

The 30-year-old Croatian is no stranger to the Masters Cup, having been semi-finalist three times and winning the Grand Slam Cup in 1995, and he said: "It's a great honour to be there and whatever you do it's great. You can't leave the Tennis Masters Cup as a loser there because you are a winner already by qualifying," he said.

The two remaining places will go to Henman, Sampras, Marat Safin or Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Safin won his second title of the year yesterday, beating the unseeded Rainer Schüttler 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the St Petersburg Open final. His first of the year came last month in Tashkent, where he beat Kafelnikov in the final.

Kafelnikov enjoyed a small measure of revenge yesterday when he joined forces with Denis Golovanov to beat Safin and Irakli Labadze in the St Petersburg doubles final, 7-5, 6-4. Kafelnikov is now ranked sixth in the Champions Race, Sampras eighth, Henman 10th and Safin 11th.

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