Henman pays price for erratic clay display

The British No 1 Tim Henman missed out on his first quarter-final for seven months as he lost 6-4, 6-3 to Belgium's Olivier Rochus in the third round of the Masters Series event here yesterday. But that was not the only surprise of the day, as the world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt also made a premature departure.

Henman beat the 10th seed Sébastian Grosjean on Wednesday, but his run was brought to a sudden halt by the world No 65 Rochus, who dominated most of the exchanges from the baseline, hitting groundstrokes with considerable power.

The Briton, who is playing himself back into form after recovering from shoulder surgery, was clearly desperate for a long run in the tournament but the quality of play was up and down. His best was very good, and he was often creative in finding ways forward to the net, but he was ineffective for long spells and occasionally let his frustration get the better of him.

"When you shake hands with someone at the end of a match you want to be able to say 'too good'," Henman said. "Don't get me wrong, my opponent played well, but I was pretty disappointed with my performance. My best was good but I was pretty erratic all round."

Henman lost the first eight points, three times remonstrating with cameramen who were moving about, and after recovering well from 0-3 to lead 4-3, he suffered a much more disastrous sequence. He lost the last 12 points of the set and seven games in a row to go 4-0 down in the second set. Henman appeared to break a racquet when he hurled it to the ground after going 2-0 down, but he escaped a code violation warning. "I have had two good wins which I haven't had for a long time, and this is the hardest I have hit the serve since the operation," he said. "I feel physically good and there's no reason why I shouldn't have my best performance at the French Open."

Hewitt was beaten comfortably, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 by Fernando Gonzalez. The Australian had played six hours of tennis in overcoming his first two opponents, and often looked flat against the lively Chilean. Gonzalez dominated much of the match with his sharp returns and fierce forehand winners and Hewitt rarely looked like recovering.

Hewitt had needed some clay-court practice before the French Open, which starts in 10 days' time. He had pulled out of the recent Barcelona and Rome tournaments after suffering a viral infection.

* Pete Sampras, who has not played since winning the US Open in September, has withdrawn from Wimbledon and looks to be on the verge of retirement. The American former world No 1 will not play in the French Open either, but told the Los Angeles Times: "I am not 100 per cent going to close the door."

* The former Wimbledon champions Goran Ivanisevic and Richard Krajicek have accepted wild cards for the Stella Artois grass-court championship at Queen's Club next month.

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