Henman will have to mix it up to oust Federer

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The Independent Online

If i was Tim Henman's coach for the biggest match of his life - today's US Open semi-final against Roger Federer - my tactical mantra would be short and sweet. You ain't worth a dime on the baseline.

If i was Tim Henman's coach for the biggest match of his life - today's US Open semi-final against Roger Federer - my tactical mantra would be short and sweet. You ain't worth a dime on the baseline.

Looking solely at the relative merits of the British No 1 and his world No 1 opponent, there is simply no way that Henman can win this match from the back. But neither can he serve and volley 100 per cent.

Federer, the young master of every aspect of his own game, would relish it if Henman took the baseline approach. He'd yank Henman all over the place with his wizardry and then hang him out to dry for dessert. As Andre Agassi said several times here before being beaten by Federer in the quarters, to beat Federer these days you need to be playing out of your skin while the Swiss guy needs to be having an off day. I agree, and that's why Federer is rightful favourite not just today but for the title.

I can be pretty sure that my advice about Henman staying clear of the baseline is the same that Tim's coach, Paul Annacone, will be giving him. Paul, a former student of mine, was well aware when he was a player himself that he - and pardon the phrase, but it's authentic - "wasn't worth a crap" from the baseline. So he mixed his own game up. He's experienced enough to be advising Tim to do the same.

Here's where it gets harder. Tim cannot simply play to the biggest strength in his game, serve-volleying. Use that every time and Federer will be onto it like a laser-guided missile. He'll settle, anticipate and destroy.

Instead, what Henman needs to do is as follows. He needs a big service day, but using variation and not simply a powerful first serve and then a deep second. He could, for example, take something off the first in favour of placement, and then hit a more powerful, deeper second. He needs the element of surprise, taking little risks. Federer's first and second serves are both excellent, not because they're booming missiles but because they're strong, directed and consistent.

Henman does need to serve-volley, but, crucially, only 75 per cent of the time. If he uses it all the time, Federer has a constant target. About one in four serves, Tim should wait and see how the point unfolds. He could stay back after his serve until Federer hits a defensive return, and then attack moving forward. The essence to all of this will be for Henman to mix up every aspect of his game.

To further disrupt Federer's game, Tim needs to attack the centre of the court, not just the angles. If you take control of the centre from Federer, you'll start to pick away at his overall rhythm and game.

Mixing things up is less viable when Tim is facing serve. I'd be advising him to go in on 90 per cent of Federer's serves, forcing Federer to attempt to pass him. That might, if Tim's volleys are working to best effect, serve the dual purpose of pressuring Federer and adding to the kind of attacking, positive mindset that Henman will absolutely need to win.

As ever, what occurs between the ears will be vital. Tim needs to be thinking, and believing deep inside, that this isn't just going to be his match but his tournament. His 6-2 head-to-head record against Federer will help him in this and maybe weigh on Federer, though not much I suspect.

Tim also has to make a solid start. If he doesn't win one of the first two sets, he is not going to be winning today in five. There's not a chance of that against Federer, who I think will win in four, although I would love to see Tim win it.

Federer showed he was human when his excellent backhand was ever so slightly imperfect in 30-40mph winds during his win over Agassi. But if I had to gamble I'd say he'll make the final and meet Joachim Johannson. I believe Joachim can upset his girlfriend's brother, Lleyton Hewitt, in the other semi-final.

The way that Joachim beat Andy Roddick in the quarters was just fabulous, a match people will never forget. He's so damn good. Now he's in dreamland.

Henman's Record v Federer

R Federer (Swit) v T Henman (GB)

Henman leads 6-2

1999 Basle (carpet) q-f Henman 6-3, 7-5

2000 Vienna (concrete) s-f Henman 2-6, 7-6, 6-3

2001 Wimbledon (grass) q-f Henman 7-5, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6

2001 Basle (carpet) f Henman 6-3, 6-4, 6-2

2002 Key Biscayne (concrete) r16 Federer 6-2, ret (neck injury).

2003 Paris Masters (carpet) q-f Henman 7-6, 6-1

2004 Rotterdam (concrete) q-f Henman 6-3, 7-6

2004 Indian Wells (concrete) f Federer 6-3, 6-3

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