Henman shows wild streak as Britons complete one-two

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The Independent Online

Typical. You invite an outsider to your party and the first thing he does is slam a door in the face of one of the hosts. Tim Henman's gratitude for the wild card he was given to play in the Madrid Masters did not extend to any sympathy for Fernando Verdasco here last night. The world No 26, who was born and bred in Madrid, was beaten 7-5, 6-3 as Britain completed a one-two over Spain, Andy Murray having beaten Ivan Navarro Pastor in straight sets earlier in the day.

Henman lost to Verdasco last year in the first round of the US Open in their only previous meeting, but the British No 2 believes he is now playing better than at any stage in the last 18 months. He reached the final of his last tournament, in Tokyo, and beat Murray on his way to the quarter-finals a week earlier in Bangkok.

After dropping to No 76 in the world in June, Henman is back up to No 41 and aiming to win a place in the top 32 in time to be seeded at the Australian Open in January. His autumn form is reminiscent of 2003, when he won the Paris Masters, beating Roger Federer and Andy Roddick along the way. " At this time of the year there are certainly a few guys who are not at their most stable mentally and you want to take advantage of it," Henman said.

Henman's game was in excellent shape here. He served with pace and precision, particularly on the rare occasions he got into trouble, returned with confidence, volleyed beautifully and hit a succession of winners from both flanks.

The match, the first of the evening session, had gone with serve until Henman broke in the 12th game thanks largely to two superb backhands. He broke serve in the second set, saved four break points at 2-0 and served out for victory in just an hour and a half.

Henman might even have had time to go out for dinner ­ though not, presumably, to the restaurant Verdasco's parents own here ­ but for the fact that he will be back on court this afternoon against David Ferrer, the world No 15 and another local hero.

Murray, who won 6-2, 6-4, never looked in trouble against the 24-year-old Navarro Pastor, who is ranked No 135 in the world and is a regular on the Challenger circuit. Nevertheless it was a useful victory for the Scot, who had not won at a rankings event since beating Fernando Gonzalez at the US Open.

The British No 1's first serve was in fine shape and it was the first time since June that he had not been broken in a match. Navarro Pastor had only one break point, while Murray's excellent returns frequently had the Spaniard in trouble on his own serve. Murray, who now plays Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 3, has been working on getting to the net. He volleyed with confidence and style, whether he was playing stop shots, punching the ball deep or digging it out from under his feet.

He was watched by his best friend, Carlos, who had flown from Barcelona. When Carlos came to the side of the court to congratulate him at the end of the match the Scot opened his wallet to show him some ¤100 notes. " I hadn't seen him since the Barcelona tournament this year," Murray explained. "We went to the casino and I hadn't spent any of the money that I'd won there. I had all the notes that I'd won and I was showing them to him."