By the time your read this, Tim Henman's clay-court shoes will be back in storage, along with fond memories of his run to the semi-finals of the French Open last year.
"The next time I step on a court, it's going to be green," the British No 1 said after being out-played by Luis Horna in the second round yesterday. The Peruvian, ranked 59th, won, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4. It was certainly not a case of Henman's reverting to a tentative approach on the slower red surface, but of his meeting an opponent whose aggressive game from the baseline rarely wavered over three hours and 10 minutes.
"Luis has a really underrated serve, and you get caught between a rock and a hard place," the seventh-seeded Henman said. "You're trying to be aggressive off the return and making some mistakes, and then you try to be consistent and put the ball back, and he's dominating with his forehand. He played better than me."
But there were a few positives. Henman's disappointed supporters will be relieved to know that although he seemed to be suffering a degree of physical difficulty from the end of the third set, his problem is not serious. "It was just a bit of general stiffness," he said. "Since I've had a bit of a back issue, that sometimes happens. It's more when I sit down for a change of ends. I get a little bit stiff and it takes me one point, or one serve, to loosen up again. It had no bearing on he match and no bearing on the way I can practise or train."
That is reassuring considering that Wimbledon is less than a month away and the 30-year-old Henman's thoughts have already turned towards the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club, London, a week next Monday.
The loss of the ranking points he gained at the French Open last year means that Henman will rank between eighth and 10th in the world, depending on other results in Paris, where the tournament ends a week next Sunday. Last year, when Henman lost to Karel Beck, of Slovakia, in the first round at Queen's and went on to be defeated in the Wimbledon quarter-finals by Mario Ancic, of Croatia, there were rumblings that he had left his best form on the Paris clay.
"It was disappointing to lose today," he said, "but it will give me a chance to prepare properly for the grass-court season." Henman has even had a word with Wimbledon about the "flat" balls, asking the All England Club not to open the cans a week before the tournament, as he was told has been the case in recent years.
How time flies. The 24-year-old Venus Williams, a former teenage prodigy whose younger sister. Serena, followed her lead, is due to play the 15-year-old Bulgarian, Sesil Karatantcheva, in the third round of the women's singles.
"There's a lot more younger player players now compared to the time I started playing," Williams observed. "When I was in my teeens there were just a handful of girls, it seemed.
The lone Williams in the draw (Serena is injured), the 11th-seededd Venus battled to a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win against the 26-year-old Fabiola Zuluaga, of Colombia, in the second round. "The best part was that Fabiola is a player with variety," Willians said. "Sometimes she's hitting harder, sometimes with more spin, so I got to see everything I'll see throughout the tournament."Reuse content