Henman plays to the crowd
Thursday 02 March 2006
It was not quite Henman Hill, but a vociferous late-night crowd helped to encourage the British No 3 to an excellent victory in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Open last night.
Tim Henman, overtaken this week by Andy Murray and Greg Rusedski in the rankings, had lost his previous two matches against Radek Stepanek, but a spirited recovery earned a memorable 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 win over the world No 16. At 5-2 down in the final set Henman seemed on his way out, but a remarkable sequence of 11 points in a row revived his chances.
At 5-3, Henman broke serve with four superb winners: a top-spin backhand lob, a thumping forehand, a forehand crosscourt return of serve and a chipped backhand down the line. Stepanek broke first in the tie-break, but Henman won the last four points to earn a quarter-final today against Rafael Nadal, the world No 2.
"To raise my level at the end and to play that well and then get into a breaker and finish it off is fantastic," Henman said. "It seemed like the crowd knew the position I was in. It felt like I was at home."
Elsewhere it was a day on which apparent mismatches produced some surprising results. Andre Agassi, with 60 singles titles on his CV, lost 7-5, 7-5 to Bjorn Phau, who has yet to spell his name out to the ATP's trophy engravers; Marat Safin (6ft 4in tall and weighing 14st) was beaten 7-6, 6-4 by Olivier Rochus (5ft 5in and 9st 4lb); and Mohammed Al Ghareeb, who has won a career total of just £19,000, came within two points of taking a set off Roger Federer, who has banked £12m.
Agassi never got going against Phau, the 26-year-old son of a German mother and Indonesian father, ranked at No 80. Even allowing for the fact that injuries have restricted him to just two tournaments since last September, Agassi's performance was poor.
The American made regular errors and his body language spoke of a player years away from his best. Asked afterwards what his main ambition for the year was, Agassi replied: "I don't know. Get my little girl out of diapers. I want that to happen this year. And maybe win a few matches." It was clearly not the best moment for a female reporter to ask Agassi what his wife, Steffi Graf, meant to him. "She's my wife," Agassi replied. "Do you have a husband?"
Rochus played a canny game against Safin, who had knocked out the world No 5, Nikolai Davydenko, 24 hours earlier in his first match after a six-month break with a knee injury. The Belgian varied pace and spin to prevent the Russian getting any sort of rhythm.
Al Ghareeb, a 25-year-old Kuwaiti ranked No 488 in the world, served well and never looked overawed. He broke to lead 5-3 in the first set but eventually lost 7-6, 6-4 to Federer, who appeared content to stay in second gear until potential trouble loomed.
* Andy Murray began his reign as British No 1 in miserable fashion, thrashed 6-2, 6-2 by the Spaniard Tommy Robredo in the first round of the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
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