Henman relishes chance to reach for the stars

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Three thousand miles from home, Tim Henman does not have to worry today about the external pressures he has faced on the four occasion he has contested semi-finals at Wimbledon. He can concentrate on coping with Roger Federer, the best player in the world, and curbing what he terms "expectations from within" at the US Open here.

Three thousand miles from home, Tim Henman does not have to worry today about the external pressures he has faced on the four occasion he has contested semi-finals at Wimbledon. He can concentrate on coping with Roger Federer, the best player in the world, and curbing what he terms "expectations from within" at the US Open here.

The 30-year-old from Oxfordshire believes he has been helped in that regard by an injury to his lower back that made him wonder if he would be able to start the tournament. Although the healing hands of Debbie Kleinman, an American chiropractor, have aided his progress through 22 sets and three games in more than 16 hours on court, having to play within himself has enabled Henman to fret less about the prospect winning or losing.

There is a parallel here with the French Open in June, when Henman, debilitated by a virus, worked through a series of difficult contests to find himself in the semi-finals facing Guillermo Coria, an Argentinian master of slow clay courts.

Henman lost after dominating the match for a set and a half, perhaps subconsciously affected by being so close to a goal that had seemed beyond his remit on an alien surface. Had he learned something from that experience that would enable him to go on should he make a similarly impressive start against Federer?

"I'd like to think it would be a little easier on a hard court than a clay court," he said. "With my style, there's an element of risk on any surface, but it's highlighted on clay. The margin between success and failure when being aggressive on clay is very small. I went through a bad spell losing all those games in a row. On a hard court, you get a bit more help with the court surface, and the balls here are quicker."

Statistics can be deceiving, and the fact that the British No 1 has beaten Federer six times out of eight may disguise the point that many of Henman's victories, although certainly not all of them, were achieved while his opponent was still growing into his game.

As Federer said: "We had some close matches, some when I was younger and he was the big favourite. I had a match point in Vienna, for example, and didn't make it. Then in the Paris Masters [last November] I felt tired. The good thing for me is that I won the last meeting we had, in Indian Wells."

Mats Wilander, of Sweden, the last man to win three of the four Grand Slam singles titles in a year, in 1988, believes Federer has what it takes to add the US Open crown to his Wimbledon and Australian Open titles: "The ability to change his game to meet the demands, from match to match, from set to set, from point to point."

Andre Agassi, defeated by Federer in five sets in the quarter-finals, said: "Tim has a great game, because he does everything well, too. Federer has just a bit more firepower. You'd have to give him the advantage. But Henman can make you play some pressure shots. Roger will have to be on top of his game."

Andy Roddick, still recovering from the shock of his five-set defeat in the quarter-finals by Joachim Johansson, of Sweden, said: "You've got to say Federer is the favourite. He's proven it all year."

Federer is aware of Henman's strengths. "He always charges me," he said. "On the second serve, he comes at you all the time. At the net, I find him the best in the world. I couldn't handle that up until Indian Wells. There, I served well, I mixed it up extremely well. I was dominant from the baseline."

Henman realises what he is up against. He said: "If you give Roger time from the baseline, he's got so many good shots that he's better than everyone at that. I need to make sure I'm aggressive and give him less time.'

Concerning his physical condition, Henman said: "I'm feeling very fresh. I need to be. It's my first time in the final weekend of this tournament. As I said at the French Open, it's so less mentally demanding for me playing the Grand Slams outside Wimbledon. I'm much more relaxed and, hopefully, that can be of benefit to me.

"I don't know how many more chances I'll get. But I'm giving myself an opportunity. That's all you can ask for. When you've got to the last four, you are obviously playing good tennis. I couldn't be happier to be in this position. We'll see what happens."

As he steps on Arthur Ashe Stadium on "Super Saturday" to contest the second semi-final after Lleyton Hewitt and Joachim Johansson have finished, Henman will probably recite his mantra: "Trying hard is not trying better."

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