Henman's chance to shine at the top

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The Independent Online

It is rare to see a British player's name at the top of a draw sheet for any international tournament, let alone an ATP Masters Series event. Tim Henman found himself in that lofty position here yesterday after the world's four leading players cried off.

It is rare to see a British player's name at the top of a draw sheet for any international tournament, let alone an ATP Masters Series event. Tim Henman found himself in that lofty position here yesterday after the world's four leading players cried off.

Roger Federer, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion is "mentally and physically exhausted", Andy Roddick has tendinitis in a knee, Lleyton Hewitt has yet to give a reason for his absence, and Guillermo Coria has a shoulder injury. Federer, Roddick and Hewitt have already qualified for the eight-man Masters Cup in Houston next month.

Henman, who is seeded to meet Andre Agassi, the 34-year-old former world No 1 in next Sunday's Madrid Masters final, said: "The schedule is so demanding. Those guys have played so well, and there's still so much tennis to be played this year. I can relate to it, because I was meant to play in Lyon two weeks ago and I just had to make the decision of not going, because my body wasn't right."

Henman has been given a bye in the opening round, in common with the other 15 seeds, and is due to play either Irakli Labadze of Georgia, or Albert Costa, of Spain, the 2002 French Open champion, in the second round.

Rainer Schuettler, of Germany, is a potential opponent in the third round, and Joachim Johansson, of Sweden, who held a match point against Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, in Moscow last week, may loom in the quarter-finals. Should Henman advance to the semi-finals, David Nalbandian, Paradorn Srichaphan, Jiri Novak or Nicolas Massu, the Olympic champion, could be waiting.

Henman said he had regained his "mental freshness" after resting an aching lower back and right shoulder.

Currently in sixth place in the Champions Race with only the Madrid Masters and the Paris Masters to be played, Henman is not allowing himself to be distracted by the jockeying for points to qualify for Houston. "I'm just going to worry about what I'm doing, not what the others are doing," he said.

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