Henman warms to his task in the desert
Having eliminated Greg Rusedski in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Open on Tuesday night, Tim Henman said: "This is bizarre for me, normally I'd be checking in at the airport about now."
The British No 1 was only half-joking. He had lost in the first round four times in his six previous visits to Dubai. But last night he began to redress the balance by advancing to the quarter-finals for the third time with a 7-6, 6-1 win against Igor Andreev, of Russia.
The bow-legged Andreev may not have the skills or the presence of his fellow Muscovite Marat Safin, but asHenman said after meeting the 21-year-old Andreev for the first time, "I don't think you'll see many forehands hit better than he does. He's a classic example of how the game's changed to pure power and athleticism."
Ranked 48th in the world, the sturdy Andreev pushed Henman in the opening set and made him save two break points in the opening game of the second set. After that, Henman capitalised on Andreev's double-faults and proceeded to make the most of what he described as "probably the quickest and lowest-bouncing surface we play on all year".
The obdurate Andreev built a platform of resistance in the opening set by refusing to give way in the third game, which lasted 16 minutes. The Russian saved three break points and battled through eight deuces before converting his sixth game point.
Henman saved a break point with a forehand volley after double-faulting to 30-40 in the sixth game. He went on to take the first three points of the tie-break, but failed to convert two of three set points from 6-3, double-faulting on the first and netting a backhand after Andreev drove a return on the second. On the third set point, at 6-5, Andreev found the net after Henman returned a second serve.
Ivan Ljubicic, of Croatia, who has won the last three of his four previous matches against Henman, stands in the Briton's path to the semi-finals. The eighth-seeded Ljubicic has played in back-to-back finals in Marseilles and Rotterdam in the past two weeks, and led Roger Federer 4-2 in the third-set tie-break in last Sunday's Rotterdam final before the Wimbledon champion prevailed, 7-5. Last night, however, Ljubicic was severely tested by Fernando Verdasco, of Spain, before winning, 10-8, also in a third-set tie-break.
Federer, the champion here for the past two years, remains on course to make it three in a row - but only just. Having squeezed through the opening round against Ivo Minar, a Czech qualifier ranked No 119 in the world, the world No 1 had to save two match points before defeating Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero, 8-6, in a third set tie-break.
"Juan Carlos played well and should have won, I think," said Federer, who came back from a set and a break down to level the contest, and was also down 4-2 in the final set.
Although Ferrero could not hold that lead, he made a determined effort in the tie-break and went 6-4 up. Federer saved the first match point on his own serve and the second on Ferrero's serve before cracking the Spaniard with a forehand drive for 7-6 and converting his first match point with an unreturnable serve to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-6.
Ferrero, a winner here in 2001, has reason to be greatly encouraged by the way he played, however, considering his woes last year, when he finished outside the top 30 for the first time in five years after missing much of the season because of chicken pox and a broken wrist.
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