Henman injects dose of reality after the fantasy

British No 1 cruises to comfortable victory in straight sets to set up third-round match match against Swedish qualifier Soderling
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The Independent Online

One minute the Centre Court spectators were acting as movie extras, cheering for Peter Colt, a fictional, 31-year-old British player with a wild card, striving to win the Wimbledon title. The next minute they were on reality television, urging Tim Henman to carry the flag at least as far as the third round.

"Hopefully it was not a reflection on our desperation to try to win this tournament one day that they have to make films about it," Henman said, smiling, having won his second-round match against Michael Llodra, of France, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

Although delaying Henman's match by half an hour, with the full backing of the All England Club, the film makers, who produced such British successes as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Billy Elliot, put the crowd in the mood for an afternoon's entertainment in the sun.

For theatrical effect, however, nothing here yesterday could compare with the clip of Greg Rusedski sounding off on Wednesday evening before leaving Henman as the last British representative standing.

Henman's performance was an improvement on Tuesday's uncertain display against Tomas Zib, an Austrian "lucky loser" ranked 154 in the world. Having accounted for Llodra, a qualifier ranked 136, Henman is due to play Robin Soderling, a Swedish qualifier ranked 152, in the third round tomorrow.

The good-humoured Henman, who quipped that he gets blamed for the weather sometimes at this time of the year, bridled a bit when a reporter asked if he was thankful for drawing a lucky loser, a qualifier and a qualifier.

"Am I going to get blamed for picking that out as well?" Henman replied. "What can I do about that? Surely by seeing the defending champion [Lleyton Hewitt] going out in the first round, as a professional you've got to be on your guard. Having said that, it is a good opportunity. I could have played Greg [Rusedski] in the first round and [Mark] Philippoussis in the second round. They were definitely players to avoid. This guy [Soderling] is obviously hitting the ball well. He beat [Martin] Verkerk [the French Open finalist], who was a dark horse, in the first round. I'm looking forward to trying to end that run."

If Henman is successful, he may face his first seeded opponent, the Argentinian David Nalbandian, who finished runner-up to Hewitt last year, in the fourth round. By then the 10th-seeded Henman may have smoothed the wrinkles out of his game, gained even more faith in his racket strings (gut on the mains and synthetic fibre on the cross strings, designed to help him in rallies, and strung with 8lb less tension for "feel"), and be ready to attack with gusto.

"In the first round against Zib, I got into a rut of staying back on my second serve, and it didn't help me a great deal," Henman said. "Today it was better. I felt like my second serve was pretty strong, and I was coming in a lot more behind it with my volleys. That's probably the right way to play."

Henman is also striving for a better balance on his first serve, so that he is not too conservative with his deliveries and is able to win more cheap points.

Llodra, a lean 23-year-old left-hander from Paris, was not afraid of Henman and his British backing. He played some delightful tennis from the baseline and was not deterred from venturing by some perfectly timed Henman lobs.

The Frenchman was eager to pounce on any Henman lapses, and had two opportunities to break in the fifth game, a 16-pointer that went to five deuces. Henman, who double-faulted twice, won on his fifth game point.

There was a call by a spectator on one point in the eighth game - either an accidental exclamation, or a copycat of the incident which provoked Rusedski's outburst - and the umpire firmly, but politely, demanded silence.

Henman's concentration did not waver as he probed for weaknesses in Llodra's game. He found an answer with the Frenchman serving at 4-5, finding the corners of the court with angled winners, two on the backhand and one on the forehand to create three set points. Llodra saved the first with an ace. Henman converted the second with another forehand to the corner.

No sooner had the crowd settled after craning forward for most of the previous 42 minutes, than Henman's serve let him down in the opening game of the second set. He double-faulted on the first point and again on the fourth, to 15-40. He escaped, only to offer Llodra two more opportunities. The Frenchman converted the fourth break point, whipping a backhand cross-court return with a triumphant shout of "Allez!"

Henman recovered from the lapse to break back immediately with a potent return of his own, and this set, like the first, was settled in the 10th game. "Come on, Tiger!" a spectator shouted, almost too flatly to be taken seriously, but Henman responded to the call, breaking Llodra's serve with a backhand return.

Llodra was foxed by a Henman lob to lose his serve in the fourth game of the third set, but recovered the break with a backhand return. That was enough for Henman, who made the decisive break for 4-2 with a low forehand volley and did not drop a point in his concluding two service games, completing the match after an hour and 54 minutes with a serve and forehand volley.

"I thought I hit the ball really well today," Henman said. "I think his style of play actually helped me. I quite enjoy playing left-handers."

In the fantasy world of film, Peter Colt, the unranked, unseeded British contender, defeated his 22-year-old American opponent, Jake Hammond, the third seed, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4 7-6, 6-4. At least that's what the scoreboard said, though not a ball was struck. The film makers made it clear that this was one of Colt's important matches, not necessarily the final.

There was one good omen. Henman's parents, Tony and Jane, were sitting in the players' guest box as the cameras rolled.