Henman is scuttled by Youzhny's guile

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The Independent Online

It was difficult for Tim Henman to be overly disappointed after losing his Paris Masters title yesterday. After all, he still has two major events to look forward to in the next few weeks: the Masters Cup in Houston, and the birth of his second child.

The fact remains, however, that Henman will be the only member of the eight-man field in Houston not to have won a championship this season.

Although the British No 1 has achieved his best results this year when able to play with less expectation, as when advancing to the semi-finals at both the French Open and the US Open, he was unable to sustain an edge to his game here.

This was due in part to the knowledge that the absence of Andre Agassi and David Nalbandian in Paris had guaranteed his Masters Cup qualification without hitting a ball. The other factor was the talent of Mikhail Youzhny, his third-round opponent.

The 22-year-old Russian, whose 7-5, 6-1 win secured a year-end finish inside the world top 20 for the first time in his career, extended the run of form that brought him the Basle title last Sunday and took him to the final in Beijing in September.

Youzhny will always be remembered for his heroics on the Centre Court here in the Palais Omnisports de Bercy in 2002. The Muscovite won the Davis Cup for Russia by becoming the first player in the competition's history to recover from two sets to love down to win the fifth and deciding rubber in a final.

His flexible back-court style and potent returns can be a problem, particularly for attacking players. It took Youzhny five games yesterday to get the measure of Henman's serve in what was their first meeting. He then broke five times in a row.

The only time Henman was in a position to dictate was when Youzhny served at 4-5, 0-30 in the opening set. The Russian's response was audacious. He aced Henman with a serve that skidded off the line and followed up with another unreturnable delivery. After that, Henman was scuttled. The only game he salvaged was a break at 0-3 in the second set.

"He played some great tennis," Henman said. "I'm not going to be positive about losing, but the opportunity to have a few days off now and clear my thoughts and try and give it one good last crack in Houston is great." Henman admitted he had lacked the sparkle of his opening match against Paradorn Srichaphan, of Thailand, on Tuesday. "I'm a bit sluggish," he said. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with the way I'm hitting the ball. Physically, I'm not injured. I'm not sick. I just need to get the sharpness back."

So a tournament shorn of Agassi before it started lost the defending champion, and Henman was soon followed out of Bercy by Andy Roddick. The American top seed fell, 7-6, 6-2, to the net-rushing Max Mirnyi, of Belarus.

Lleyton Hewitt advanced to the quarter-finals when Nicolas Massu, of Chile, retired at 3-4 in the opening set because of a hernia.