Henman ticks off restless ball boys

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The Independent Online

Nothing was allowed to distract Tim Henman yesterday as he advanced to the quarter-finals of the Masters Series tournament here. The British No 1 even told off a couple of ball boys for "rocking to and fro".

"It's a habit they have when they kneel at the side of the net when they're waiting," Henman said. "You either let it distract you or you do something about it and get on with it."

Likewise, Henman added, he was aware that some of the chasing pack had lost ground in the race for one of the eight places in next month's Masters Cup in Sydney, but was not prepared to let that knowledge put him off his stroke, either.

Henman's steely, occasionally tetchy, determination was bad news for his third round opponent, Nicolas Lapentti, who was keen to atone for his dismal Davis Cup display against Britain last month in his home town, Guayaquil, but was unable to raise his game at the appropriate moments. Henman, maintaining an impressive level of consistency, won, 7-6, 6-2, after an hour and 37 minutes.

He now plays Tommy Haas, of Germany, the 15th seed, who twice came within two points of losing to Hicham Arazi before overcoming the Moroccan, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. Arazi, who eliminated Andre Agassi the previous evening, was back down to earth.

Organisers of the Stuttgart tournament invite local young tennis enthusiasts to form fan groups for the competitors, and Lapentti's supporters did their best to raise his spirits in the drab ambience of the Grandstand Court. Lapentti occasionally rewarded their faith with colourful flashes of style, but overall he was a portrait of Ecuadorean grey.

Henman may have made shorter work of the opening set but for netting a forehand return when he had an opportunity to break for 4-2, the only chance on either side of the net en route to the tie-break. Lapentti, serving at 4-5, played two dreadful points to 0-30, but rescued himself with four flawless ones.

His performance was encapsulated by two points in the shoot-out. Henman, serving at 5-3, was drawn into a lengthy duel of sliced backhands, which Lapentti won with a glorious pass down the line. Lapentti then double faulted on the next point, for 4-6, and missed a forehand on the set point.

Lapentti created his only break point after winning the opening game of the second set, Henman netting a backhand. Henman served his way out of danger, and had a curt word with the rocking ball boys. Lapentti had a hard word with himself after being broken for 1-2, but by now Henman's confidence was flowing.

He broke again for 5-2, after fixing the ball boys with another warning glare. Lapentti managed to save three match points in the concluding game, but his resistance was token. Henman dispatched him with a forehand volley on the fourth match point. "I don't think I've served that consistently for a long, long time," Henman said.

Wayne Ferreira, the defending champion, did Henman a favour by beating Sebastien Grosjean, of France, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, after saving three match points. Grosjean stayed ahead of Henman in the race for Sydney, but the gap is closing.

"To take advantage, you've got to do your job on the court," Henman emphasised. "That has worked well, but the matches are going to get tougher and tougher – even more reason to concentrate on the court."

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian fifth seed, has kept his eye on the points here. He strengthened his Masters Cup prospects with a straight sets win against the Czech, Jiri Novak. Thomas Enqvist beat Andy Roddick, the American 14th seed, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, showing his powers of recovery by winning the third set tie-break from 1-5 down.

Max Mirnyi, a qualifier from Belarus, continued to flex his muscles. Having beaten Gustavo Kuerten, the world No 1, in the second round, he saved two match points and defeated Goran Ivanisevic yesterday,4-6, 7-6, 7-6, to reach the last eight.

Pete Sampras stayed on course for Sydney, beating Chile's Marcelo Rios, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.