Tim Henman was finally nailed last night by Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion and world No 1, whom he had defeated six times in their previous seven matches.
Federer, who required only 62 minutes to overwhelm Henman 6-3, 6-3, in the final of the Pacific Life Open Masters Series tournament in Indian Wells, California, had previously beaten Henman only by default. That was at the Nasdaq Open Masters Series event in Key Biscayne, Florida in 2002. Henman twisted his neck trying to avoid a passer-by as he stepped out of the locker room and had to retire after losing the opening set 6-2.
The only mishap last night involved the British No 1's game slowly crumbling under the pressure of a superb performance by the 22-year-old Swiss. Both he and Henman had played some spectacular tennis en route to the final, but yesterday Federer was well and truly the master of the court.
Henman's last two victories against Federer were both indoors, in contrast to the 100-degree dry heat of the Californian desert, where his prospects disappeared into the thin air.
Federer, who edged a tight three-set contest against Andre Agassi in the semi-finals, seemed to have sharpened his game in the process rather than being weakened by the experience. Henman, who had swept past Irakli Labadze, a Georgian qualifier, in his semi-final, lacked the precision to combat Federer.
The highlight of the tournament for Henman was his quarter-final win against the big-serving American, Andy Roddick, who held a match point in the second set. Nonetheless, Henman's endeavours consolidated his position in the world's top 10. He now stands at No 8 in the rankings. "I had some half chances, and you have to take those against a player of Roger's class," Henman said.
There was little between the players in the early games. However, once Federer broke for 3-1 in the opening set, his game appeared to take on an authority Henman was unable to match.
Henman double-faulted for the first time at 15-15 in that fourth game. Federer then conjured an amazing angled back-hand half-volley winner to counter a Henman drop shot on the third point before passing the Briton for 15-40. Henman served away the first break point, only to be trapped by a forehand down the line as Federer converted the second opportunity.
Henman missed with an overhead shot as Federer held for 4-1 and the set ended with the first love games of the match, Henman holding for 3-5 and Federer boldly serving out the set on his first set point.
The more assured Federer became, the more Henman was prone to errors. He double-faulted a second time to lose his serve in the third game of the second set. Federer broke for the third time in the ninth game, Henman netting a backhand on the first match point.
It was Henman's second Indian Wells final in three years, but he fared no better on the first occasion, in 2002, when he lost to the Australian Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets.
As he heads to Florida for this week's Nasdaq Open, Henman and his coach, Paul Annacone, will have time to reflect on a promising start to the season, albeit with an anti-climax yesterday.
At the end of last year, Annacone contributed to Henman's first Masters series title in Paris by telephone before his appointment as coach. He has encouraged Henman to be more aggressive in his play, and although there will be setbacks like yesterday, when he ran into the best player in the world on top form, he will persevere with the strategy, knowing that it is the only way he can prosper as his career moves towards its final stages.Reuse content