Henman turns to Sampras' former coach Annacone

Tim Henman is to be guided by Pete Sampras's former coach, Paul Annacone, as the British No 1 attempts to build on his triumph at the Paris Masters last month.

Annacone, who worked with Sampras during five of his seven Wimbledon titles, will coach Henman on a part-time basis. He is due to spend a week with Henman as the Briton prepares to start next season in Doha, Qatar, and will link up with him again prior to the Australian Open in Melbourne.

"We'll continue to work together at various times throughout 2004 in the hope of maximising my performance at the biggest events of the year," said Henman, who has been without a coach since parting company with Larry Stefanki after the United States Open in September.

"Paul and I have been friends for a long time and we got to know each other pretty well when he used to work with Pete," Henman added. "I obviously have a lot of respect for him for what they both achieved together.

"The real turning point for me was my loss to [David] Nalbandian in Basle where I played very poorly. I decided to give Paul a call to talk through a few things about my game and he was really helpful.

"I also spoke to him before my match with [Sebastien] Grosjean in Paris, as I'd lost to him in a couple of big matches in the summer and I did not really feel comfortable going into the match. Paul gave me a couple of things to focus on and they worked really well, so I also spoke to him later in the week before my matches with [Roger] Federer and [Andrei] Pavel. We seem to have very similar views on both my game and tennis in general.

"Having had some time to reflect on my success in Paris and the year as a whole, I've spoken to Paul at length and we've come to an agreement which we think will enable us both to achieve our goals next year."

Henman is due to play a charity match this evening against Rainer Schüttler, of Germany, at the Honda Challenge here. The main event began yesterday, with John McEnroe defeating Jeremy Bates, the former British No 1, in the opening round-robin match.

It was difficult to decide whether McEnroe's speech at the Lawn Tennis Writers' annual dinner-dance at the All England Club on Tuesday night - a blistering cocktail of acidic remarks laced with humour - was more impressive than his display against Bates.

Among other things, McEnroe wanted to know why Tony Blair "kisses George Bush's ass", why Wimbledon turned down a Millennium charity match between himself and Bjorn Borg, why they are allowing male competitors to wear sleeveless shirts, and why people here think Greg Rusedski is British. At the same time, McEnroe thanked Rusedski for relieving him of his long-held title as the expletive champion of Centre Court.

Considering that McEnroe only arrived in the country from New York that morning, his iconoclastic tour de force at the microphone gets the vote over his victory against Bates, a one-hour, 45-minute contest filled with the customary touch and tantrums as the maestro prevailed, 4-6, 6-3, 10-6.

"It's not an act, he wants to win," the 41-year-old Bates emphasised. "I don't think players today hit the ball as early as he does. He still serves well, and I can't count the number of times I looked up and saw John at the net. I can feel that I've been out there working."

McEnroe, 44, said he had approached his contentious after-dinner speech at Wimbledon the way he went into his matches. "You have to light a fire and take chances," he said. "I like the challenge. I also feel I can be good at it."

Having been invited to address those whom he regarded as his persecutors, McEnroe did not hold back. Few of the distinguished guests and tennis writers were left unscathed as McEnroe smiled and then let fly.

He took particular delight in recounting how, after Wimbledon rejected his Millennium match with Borg, proposed for the middle Sunday of the 2000 Championships, the pair ended up playing in the grounds of Buckingham Palace instead. "Which just goes to show," McEnroe added yesterday, "that if you believe in something, a negative can become a positive."

Tim Phillips, the Wimbledon chairman, said: "We gave [the proposed McEnroe-Borg] match a lot of thought, but we did not think it would be right to have a celebrity charity match in the middle of a Grand Slam championships."

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