Henman left shell shocked after qualifier's fightback
Tuesday 28 March 2006
It should have been no surprise to those who have grown used to Tim Henman raising hopes one moment only to dash them the next. Yesterday, however, even the most seasoned of Henman-watchers were rubbing their eyes in disbelief when the 31-year-old Briton lost in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open after one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in the history of the game.
Playing Simon Greul, a qualifier ranked No 130 in the world, Henman lost only four points in the first set. The German, however, suddenly found his touch to turn the match on its head and win 0-6, 6-1, 7-5. While Henman dropped beneath the high standards he had set with victories in the first two rounds over Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt, he could be forgiven for being stunned by the astonishing improvement in Greul's game.
Henman described it as the most bizarre match he had ever played. "I'm shocked, bearing in mind the way I played the first set and how badly he played," he admitted.
Greul had had to save two match points in qualifying for his first appearance in a Masters series tournament, but the 24-year-old went on to record good wins over Paradorn Srichaphan and Dominik Hrbaty.
Henman had watched Greul practise on Sunday but probably wondered why he had bothered after winning the first set in 18 minutes. The British No 3 must have felt like he was back playing an opponent from the lower reaches of the Oxfordshire League. Greul, clearly nervous, had three double-faults in his first service game and appeared totally flummoxed by Henman's chip-and-charge tactics and immaculate play.
When Henman put a backhand into the net at 30-0 in the first game of the second set it ended a run of 16 successive winning points. Henman took the game to 15, but the pattern suddenly changed when the Briton hit two service returns long and Greul levelled at 1-1.
The German admitted afterwards that he had felt relieved simply to win one game and at that stage had no thoughts about winning the match. However, he quickly started hitting more cleanly and put Henman on the back foot with the power of his service returns. As his opponent began to make errors, Greul won six games in a row to take the set.
In the final set Henman ended a run of seven losing games by holding serve comfortably and then broke to go 2-1 ahead. At 4-3, however, he played a poor service game and netted a backhand volley at break point, having failed to put away a routine smash. At 5-6 Henman faltered again, Greul clinching victory with a backhand return winner.
"I didn't take anything for granted," Henman said. "I wanted to keep the pressure on. But I missed one forehand I should have made at 1-1 on my serve and all of a sudden I was playing against a different player. To lose like this is pretty tough to swallow."
In the women's competition Svetlana Kuznetsova became the first player to reach the quarter-finals when Patty Schnyder withdrew with an ankle injury. On Sunday, Kuznetsova knocked out Martina Hingis, winning 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 in a hard-hitting contest.
Maria Sharapova was below her best but beat fellow Russian teenager Maria Kirilenko, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Tatiana Golovin shocked Elena Dementieva, who won only three games against the 18-year-old Frenchwoman, while China's Jie Zheng beat Jill Craybas in three sets.
* Bjorn Borg has decided not to sell his Wimbledon trophies and rackets. He has withdrawn them from sale, having been touched by the sympathetic reaction of the public to his earlier decision to go to auction.
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