Henman's first clash with Murray proves real turn-on

Click to follow

On the eve of the match, Henman, the 31-year-old British No 1, tried to play down the significance of the situation. "I really want to win," he said, "but, in the context of the season, it's not the be all and end all."

Murray, the 18-year-old British No 3, was probably closer to the mark when he said: "In other countries, when [Rafael] Nadal plays [Carlos ] Moya, for example, it's not really the same. Because we haven't got as many players, I think everybody wants to see this before Tim stops."

Jeremy Bates, the former British No 1, now the Davis Cup captain, tried to keep the match in proportion. "We should not judge Andy and Tim on the basis of one match, he said. "Tim has been on the Tour for more than 10 years. When Andy has been on the Tour for 10 years, that will be the time for comparisons.

"Of the two, Andy has a lot more to gain. He's got a free shot at the best player Britain has had over the last 10 years. It's always a bit easier if you're the new kid on the block; a no-pressure situation for Andy, but he will obviously have expectations of himself."

Mark Petchey, who has helped guide Murray to 70th in the world since taking over as his coach shortly before Wimbledon, caught the mood best when he said: "It's going to have a little bit of extra spice isn't it? You can't run away from it. Greg [Rusedski] and Tim have had it for the last few years and it's quite nice from the British public's point of view to have a match of this magnitude this late in the season."

He added: "I played Tim a couple of times when he was up-and-coming and I lost to him twice. There was a lot of pressure on me then, and you could see he was going to be a great player, though I don't think anybody predicted how good he was going to be. As an older, higher-ranked player, you feel that sort of pressure going into a match like that. Tim is a competitor and he'll want to win."

The fact is that Henman's need to win is greater than Murray's. After a disappointing season on the back of last year's semi-final finishes at both the French Open and the US Open, he is seeking reassurance that he still has a future at the top level of the sport.

Henman, the sixth seed, is the only two-time champion in the draw, having won the Davidoff Swiss Indoors title here in 1998 and 2001. But if Murray can forget the respect and friendship he feels for Henman, he could take another giant stride forward.

Murray's Scottish compatriot, Alan Mackin, a lucky loser, was defeated yesterday by Marcos Baghdatis, a qualifier from Cyprus, 6-1, 6-3.

* The 33-year-old Silvia Farina Elia, the highest-ranked Italian female player in history, retired yesterday after losing in the first round of the Gaz de France Stars.