Henman stands tall to defy Karlovic

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One way to prepare to play the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic for the first time here at the US Open would be to stand across the street from the Empire State Building and look upwards for a couple of hours.

One way to prepare to play the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic for the first time here at the US Open would be to stand across the street from the Empire State Building and look upwards for a couple of hours.

Tim Henman had been too busy having treatment to a lower back problem for that, so yesterday the British No 1 just had to take his chances. After five sets, played over three hours and 37 minutes, he prevailed and saved his nation from the embarrassment of a two-day wipe-out.

It was not the prettiest match ever seen on Louis Armstrong Stadium, nor was Henman at his best against a Croatian whose range of talent was less impressive than his height. But, after the loss of Britain's two other representatives, Greg Rusedski and Alex Bogdanovic, on Monday, both after five sets, there was much relief when Henman was announced the winner, 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Henman thanked a chiropractor, Debbie Kleinman, for getting him to the court on time. "I hadn't been able to practise since Saturday," he said, "but as the match went on I felt my condition improving. Debbie has worked with Ivan Lendl and Steffi Graf, and I was lucky she was able to help me."

The problem began in July, when Henman started practising again two weeks after Wimbledon. At first the pain was on the right side of his lower back. Last weekend it switched to the left side. "I'd like to think that it's nothing long term," he said.

Henman's next match will be tomorrow against Jerome Golmard, a French qualifier, who reached the second round when his opponent, Irakli Labadze, retired after the opening set because of a wrist injury. Golmard has won three of his seven previous matches against Henman, notably in the first round at the 1998 Australian Open, 11-9 in the fifth set.

Karlovic, best known for eliminating Lleyton Hewitt, the defending champion, in the first round at Wimbledon last year, hit 39 aces against Henman. He also lashed shots that would have landed in Shea Stadium but for the walls of the court.

Henman, the fifth seed, would have had an easier time had he converted any of five set points in the second set, having won the first set tie-break, 7-3. But Karlovic went on to win the second shoot-out, 9-7, and broke twice in the third set to take a 2-1 lead.

From that moment, Henman's movement seemed to be more fluent. He levelled the match after breaking for 2-1 in the fourth set, and Karlovic double-faulted to lose the opening game of the final set.

Marat Safin, who won the title in 2000, was unable to end a disappointing sequence of results. The 24-year-old Russian 13th seed lost in the first round to Thomas Enqvist, of Sweden, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. "I don't have enough confidence to beat these guys," lamented Safin, who is remembered for blowing the great Pete Sampras off the court in the final four years ago.

Justine Henin-Hardenne opened her defence of the women's singles title with a win against Nicole Vaidisova, a Czech qualifier, 6-1, 6-4, which was not as straight forward as it may appear.

The 15-year-old Vaidisova took advantage of the world No 1's lapse in concentration to dash into a 4-1 lead in the second set. "I kind of went to sleep," said Henin-Hardenne, who snapped out of her torpor before Vaidisova could push her into a third set.

"I had a few bad shots and it turned her way," Vaidisova said, "but it was a great experience to play the No 1 player in the world on Arthur Ashe Stadium in my first Grand Slam."

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