In a match distinguished only by a mini-tornado on court and a string of eccentric line calls, Tim Henman vanquished Radek Stepanek in four sets yesterday to earn himself a place in the third round of the Australian Open.
Stepanek, a 25-year-old from the Czech Republic, played an uninspired and error-riddled game before losing 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in 2hr 12min at Melbourne Park. The only time he appeared dangerous was in the second set, when he broke Henman's serve and then - in a protracted 10th game that the British No 1 later described as "horrendous" - saved five break points before levelling at one-set all.
Both men had to fight strong winds that buffeted the Margaret Court Arena from every angle and repeatedly carried the ball off course. "It was pretty swirly out there," Henman said. "It was awkward at times. But you have to accept that sometimes it's going to be a bit ugly. For a guy that has pretty short swings and is getting to the net as often as possible, it's actually conditions that don't suit me too badly."
Henman got off to a decisive start, breaking Stepanek's serve three times and barely raising a sweat before closing out the first set in 28 minutes. In the second, the momentum swung the Czech player's way as he produced a series of impressive winners and then leapt giant steps of elation across court after a particularly clever volley.
But the British No 11 seed recovered swiftly, breaking in the second game of the third set and, as his opponent crumbled, powering through the fourth set to victory on his third match point. Stefanek, ranked No 45, was frustrated by a series of inexplicable line calls, most of which went against him. He strode to the net and stood hands on hips, seething. The crowd responded with a slow handclap.
Henman said he sympathised. "There were three in a row that went my way," he said. "I hit a return out that didn't get called. He hit a shot down the line that was in and got called out. Then the next serve he hit was in and it got called out. I thought that was pretty humorous, but I don't think he did."
Tomorrow he plays Guillermo Canas, of Argentina, who has won three out of their four previous matches. Henman described him as "a great competitor... a class opponent", which he demonstrated yesterday by defeating his compatriot, Agustin Calleri, the No 22 seed, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
It may not be too long before similar praise is levelled at Todd Reid, who is being hailed as the next big thing in Australian men's tennis after beating Sargis Sargsian, of Armenia, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 6-4 in a marathon second-round tie yesterday.
The 19-year-old, playing his first five-setter, overcame nerves, nausea and a broken toe-nail to emerge triumphant from the 3hr 36min match. An ecstatic Reid, who bowed to all four corners of Rod Laver Arena, Andre Agassi-style, said it had been his toughest day ever on a tennis court, and his best. "With that crowd, it was just amazing," he said.
Both he and Sargsian, the world No 38, were treated for cramps during a match that turned into survival of the fittest. Both took tumbles while lunging for shots. Reid, the 2002 junior Wimbledon champion, vomited on court after drinking too much water and threw away a lead of two sets to one and 4-1 in the tie-break. Somehow, he managed to claw his way back. "I always kept hope," he said. "Anything can happen."
Reid, who won his first Grand Slam match only three days ago, will meet Roger Federer, the No 2 seed, in the third round. The Swiss player has yet to drop a set at the tournament and yesterday defeated Jeff Morrison, of the United States, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
Reid's compatriot, Lleyton Hewitt, sent hearts racing in the home crowd when he gave away the first five games of his match against Karol Kucera. But after losing the first set 1-6, he pulled himself together and won the next three 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. "I got off to a slow start," he said.
Hewitt works hard on the tennis court, but the same, apparently, does not apply to his domestic life. The No 15 seed proposed to his long-time girlfriend and world No 2, Kim Clijsters, during a harbour cruise in Sydney last month. Of their forthcoming wedding, he said: "She can organise it. I'll just rock up." Joining him in the third round are Juan Carlos Ferrero, the No 3 seed, David Nalbandian, the No 8, and Australia's Mark Philippoussis, who took four sets to beat Fabrice Santoro.Reuse content