British tennis does not quite have a monopoly on late developers. Julien Boutter, Tim Henman's opponent in his opening match of the Masters Series tournament at Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy this afternoon, is 27, the same age as Henman, but considers his career to be in its infancy. This is because Boutter completed a degree in applied mechanics before dedicating himself to the professional tour.
"If somebody had told me when I was studying that in three years I would beat the No 1 in the world, I would have said they must be joking," Boutter said. But that is precisely what the Frenchman did in Basle last week, extending Gustavo Kuerten's sequence of defeats to five in a row. Far from taking offence, Kuerten had dinner with Boutter and invited him to be his doubles partner in Paris.
Boutter, who defeated Andrei Pavel in the second round in Basle, eliminated the Romanian a round earlier here yesterday, when a sore back caused Pavel to retire with Boutter leading, 6-4, 2-1. The Frenchman's advance in Basle was halted in the semi-finals by Roger Federer, playing in his home town. Henman outplayed Federer in the final to win the title without dropping a set.
Henman may remember that Boutter was troubled by a shoulder injury in Basle, but the only sign of pain as he served with gusto yesterday was registered by Pavel. Boutter had the shoulder X-rayed on Monday. "I was told that even if it hurt, I could hit the ball," he said. Hit the ball he did.
The British No 1 needs to continue his run of form here to secure a place in the Masters Cup in Sydney next month, and to show that he is not merely a winner of second division ATP Tour events. He does not need to be reminded that Boutter is a dangerous opponent, albeit one who goes for bust. Last May, in their only previous match, Boutter wore down Henman, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, on a clay court in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome. More recently, Boutter dispatched Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, on a medium-paced court in Stuttgart.
Boutter applied his knowledge of mechanics to restoring his father's vintage car, causing roars of laughter in the interview room when he announced it was a Simca 8. "It's not the Simca 1000, it's a Simca 8," he stressed. "It's a cab. There's only eight in the world like it. It was the first car my father bought when he was 18 years old. People are laughing at the back of the room because there was a song in France about the Simca 1000." (The song was on the lines of: "I will take you nude in my Simca 1000.")
Lleyton Hewitt's prospects of overtaking Kuerten at the head of the Champions Race this week ended when the Australian was defeated in his opening match by Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Hewitt, who was given medication for a stomach complaint, said the problem was not serious. He will now prepare for the Masters Cup and the Davis Cup against France in Melbourne.
Goran Ivanisevic, the Wimbledon champion, will say farewell to the season in Sydney, having been defeated in his opening match here by Andreas Vinciguerra, of Sweden, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6. Worryingly for Ivanisevic, he held two match points, just as he did before losing to Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, in his previous Masters Series event in Stuttgart.
* The women's governing body, the WTA, has convened a panel to investigate the injury that kept Venus Williams from playing the Sanex Championships in Munich this week. The WTA announced last week that Williams faces a loss of $140,000 (£98,000) in bonus money if it was proved the injury was not legitimate.Reuse content