Henman in form for showdown against Federer

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman enjoyed a winning start to the year yesterday and set up a meeting with the world No 1, Roger Federer, in the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne.

Tim Henman enjoyed a winning start to the year yesterday and set up a meeting with the world No 1, Roger Federer, in the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne.

Henman beat the defending champion, David Nalbandian, 6-1, 7-5, showing some good form in the warm-up tournament for the Australian Open. The British No 1 had lost four of his last five matches against the Argentinian, but came through without many problems and was pleased with his game.

"It's a great start to the year - just what I was looking for," Henman said. "Over the years I've found David very difficult to play against. He returns serve very well and he's deceptively effective from the baseline, so sometimes it can be difficult to execute my game plan well enough against him to get the right result. Beating somebody of his stature is always good for the confidence and it bodes well at the beginning of the year."

After a busy year in 2004, Henman explained that the Christmas break had not necessarily been good for his fitness, particularly his back, which has been causing him problems.

"I'm not the most flexible and at the end of the year I was pretty exhausted and wanted to have a couple of weeks where I didn't do anything," he said. "When I started training again it really seized up. As much as I enjoyed the two weeks off I don't think it's so productive."

Henman will now be hoping to maintain his good record against the Swiss, having won six of their nine previous meetings. Federer, described last year by Henman as "virtually unplayable", took three sets to overcome Gaston Gaudio 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 and the Wimbledon champion seemed to be finding his form as the game went on.

He said: "It was about getting used to the surface. The conditions are much quicker than Doha [where he won the Qatar Open]. My timing was OK, but I could have served better.

Andre Agassi beat the Chilean Olympic gold medallist, Nicolas Massu, 6-1, 7-6, to set up a meeting with Andy Roddick.

* Jennifer Capriati has pulled out of the Australian Open because of a nagging shoulder injury. The 28-year-old first hurt her shoulder at the 2004 Advanta Championships in Philadelphia in November. Capriati, who had been seeded No 10 for the Open, which starts on Monday, won the event in 2001 and 2002.

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