Henman's frailties exposed as Fish reveals the future

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman was given another ominous glimpse into the future here yesterday when he was defeated in the first round of the Madrid Masters by the American Mardy Fish, 7-6, 6-3. "He's got a modern-day game," Henman said, having been out-served by the 21-year-old from Minnesota, who has improved his world ranking from 81 to 25 this year.

The hint was that the 29-year-old Henman senses time is beginning to pass him by, even though he spoke positively about being happy with the health of his body and his game, and of being "more excited than ever".

Henman reminded his critics that his recovery from shoulder surgery had prevented him from playing "properly" until Hamburg in May, effectively reducing the British No 1's season to half a dozen tournaments. These included a victory in Washington DC for the 10th ATP Tour title of his career, and a semi-final appearance in Vienna last week, which lifted his ranking to 30.

"There is certainly nothing wrong with me and nothing wrong with my game at the moment," Henman said. He conceded, however, that his serve, which has undergone fine-tuning in terms of footwork, was not as much of a weapon yesterday as it had been in Vienna.

Fish won 91 per cent of his first-serve points, Henman 74 per cent. "I didn't have the consistency [I showed last week]," Henman said.

First to be broken, for 5-6, Henman forced a tie-break, Fish narrowly missing with a forehand pass down the line on break point in the 12th game. Henman led 2-0 in the tie-break, only to double-fault to 2-3. Fish took the shoot-out, 7-4.

The tall, well built American then took advantage of Henman's ailing serve to break for 3-1 in the second set, Henman opening the game with a double-fault and missing his next five first serves. Although Fish double-faulted three times when serving for the match at 5-3, Henman hit a forehand long on a break point at 30-40 and delivered another forehand over the baseline on match point.

There was one winning Gambill yesterday - the American Jan-Michael Gambill defeated the Russian Nikolay Davydenko, 6-3, 6-3 - as reaction to reports concerning the ATP's investigation into irregular patterns of internet betting gained momentum in the Spanish media.

The Spanish player Feliciano Lopez issued the following statement: "In view of the information given by the media, as an echo of a news item published in the English press, associating me with the supposed rigging of a match, specifically one played in Long Island, as a consequence of my having withdrawn, relating my withdrawal to possible clandestine bets, I declare that this information, as regards myself, is absolutely false and lacking any grounds. As you know, I withdrew from the match due to an injury, which I am able to evidence at any time.

"To this effect, I have placed the information in the hands of my lawyers, who are analysing it to take, if appropriate, any legal action to which I may be entitled by law." Another Spanish player, Fernando Vicente, declared that he was not involved in any betting scandal and said his parents had been upset by the publicity.

* Mary Pierce, of France, had to retire from her Swisscom Challenge first-round match with Katarina Srebotnik in Zurich yesterday because of a leg injury. Pierce, a wild card entry, who was competing with a heavily strapped right thigh, received treatment twice in the first set, which she lost 6-0 to the 22-year-old Slovenian.