Henman serves familiar blend of slick and sloppy

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The Independent Online

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for another heart-stopping summer ride on the Tim Henman rollercoaster. Britain's No 1 showed at Queen's Club in London yesterday that he has lost none of his ability to inspire hope and anxiety in almost equal measure.

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for another heart-stopping summer ride on the Tim Henman rollercoaster. Britain's No 1 showed at Queen's Club in London yesterday that he has lost none of his ability to inspire hope and anxiety in almost equal measure.

In his first match of the grass court season Henman beat America's Robby Ginepri 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 to reach the third round of the Stella Artois tournament. The scoreline tells its own story of some exquisite Henman grass court play but also a number of glaring errors.

Henman has not gone beyond the quarter-finals anywhere this year and lost in the second round of the French Open last month. Ginepri, 22, has a place in history as the first player to compete at Wimbledon in a sleeveless shirt, but with his awkward style the world No 73 has rarely threatened to make a name for himself with his racket.

After breaking serve in the fifth game Henman appeared in command, but Ginepri hit back with a remarkable run of eight points. A flashing forehand return which gave the No 3 seed no chance earned a break back at 4-4 and Ginepri won the next game to love. From 4-1 up in the tie-break, however, Ginepri made a series of mistakes and Henman won six of the set's last seven points.

The Briton got off to a flyer in the second set, winning his serve and earning two break points in the next game before missing an easy smash to let Ginepri back in. Henman's play became sloppy and Ginepri took the set after breaking in the seventh game when his opponent put a volley wide.

The final set, however, saw Henman at his best. He has been working with his coach, Paul Annacone, on being even more aggressive on grass, particularly on the return of serve, and it enabled him to dominate at the net and show the exquisite touch which makes him one of the game's best volleyers.

"To play as well as I did in the third set was very pleasing," Henman said. "I was disappointed to lose early in Paris, but it's given me a good opportunity to practise and to do a lot of work with Paul. I hope that benefits me this week - and in a couple of weeks time."

Jamie Delgado, the world No 205, gave a further boost to British tennis with a convincing victory over Gaël Monfils, one of the game's most exciting young players. The Frenchman, who won the junior Wimbledon title last season, has had an excellent first year as a senior and has a world ranking of 82, but 28-year-old Delgado had too much know-how on grass for him.

Having earned a wild card here through the toss of a coin - a play-off between four Britons was scuppered by the rain - Delgado is now guaranteed at least £3,910 in prize-money (just £300 less than he has earned so far this year).

He has to juggle the rest of his week between his commitments here and a British play-off tournament at Raynes Park for a wild card at Wimbledon.

The week will be in stark contrast to his experiences last month, when he was in a group of British players who got caught up in the uprising in Uzbekistan. They needed an armed escort away from a tournament in Andijan during incidents in which up to 200 people were reported to have been killed.

"I heard gunshots on the Thursday night and when we got to the tennis club on Friday it was in a bit of a panic," Delgado recalled. "It was pretty scary at times. We slept on sofas at the club on Friday night until the British embassy came and picked us up the next morning and drove us to Tashkent. On Friday night I was pretty nervous. People were shooting aimlessly from what we understood. We were guarded but I would have liked more."

Two Australians, Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis, made winning comebacks after three months out with injury. Hewitt, the No 1 seed here, was given the most testing of work-outs by Xavier Malisse, beating the Belgian, 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, after more than two and a half hours. Hewitt, who beat Tim Henman here in the 2001 and 2002 finals, has been out of action with toe and rib injuries and took his time to settle against Malisse. Philippoussis, though, brushed aside the challenge of the Dutchman Raemon Sluiter, losing only four games on his way to a comfortable 6-4, 6-0 victory.

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