Henman's Hanover hopes dip

After skidding ominously on the road to Hanover yesterday, Tim Henman was at a loss to explain why his pre-match feeling of well-being deserted him when faced with Daniel Vacek, a Czech qualifier he had beaten in their four previous meetings.

After skidding ominously on the road to Hanover yesterday, Tim Henman was at a loss to explain why his pre-match feeling of well-being deserted him when faced with Daniel Vacek, a Czech qualifier he had beaten in their four previous meetings.

While acknowledging Vacek's impressive performance in the second round of the Eurocard Open, Henman found it hard to believe that he had been swept off the court, 6-3, 6-1, after only 63 minutes. It was his heaviest defeat since losing to Pete Sampras, 6-0, 6-3, in Vienna last year, when the American was cranking up to end the year as the world No 1 for a record sixth consecutive time.

"I never cease to surprise myself," Henman mused. "I was playing a guy that I've beaten all four times. Today I managed to get four games."

Henman's disappointment after losing ground in the race to be among the élite eight at next month's ATP Tour Championship echoed his thoughts after losing to Argentina's Guillermo Canas in the first round of the United States Open less than two months ago.

Since then, Henman has restored a degree of confidence with a stirring display for Britain against South Africa in the Davis Cup and by advancing to the final of the Swiss Indoor Championships in Basle, losing to the Slovak Karol Kucera in a fifth-set tie-break. But he has also endured further set-backs, going down to the Frenchman Nicolas Escude in the second round at Toulouse and to Russia's Marat Safin in the first round in Vienna.

"Since the US Open, I had a lot of time to reflect and I have a slightly different approach to things," Henman said. "On two occasions it worked, and on two occasions it hasn't. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. I've been here since Saturday. I've had really good practice. I've been working hard, been training hard off the court. Then I have a result like this. It is difficult to explain."

One aspect of Henman's downfall yesterday was easy to pinpoint - when playing an inspired opponent, the last thing to do is bolster his spirits with double-faults. Henman was guilty of four, and three of them were costly. The first, for 15-30 in the opening game, gave Vacek the incentive to make a dream start. The second gave Vacek a break for 2-0 in the second set. The third gave Vacek the opportunity to break again for 4-0.

Henman's fourth double-fault, at 40-30 in the sixth game, could have led to the embarrassment of a whitewash in the second set. At least Henman avoided that by winning the next two points.

Vacek was not in a generous mood. He conceded only 11 points on his serve, eight of them in the second set. Three of those were in the third game, when Henman created his only break points. Henman netted a backhand on the first, and Vacek saved the second with an unreturnable serve.

"I think I was a little bit stronger mentally today than he was," Vacek said. "There was more pressure on him. I can understand it. It makes a huge difference for him, I guess, if he qualifies for Hanover or not.

"The previous matches we played, I always managed to play one excellent set. Three times they were very close matches. This time was the first time I managed to stay in the game for two sets."

Henman, currently No 9 in the race for Hanover, intends to spend the rest of the week practising in Stuttgart before leaving for Paris to compete in the season's last ATP Tour Super 9 event. After that, Henman will go to Stockholm to duel for his last few qualifying points.

SECOND ROUND RESULTS:M Rios, Chile, beat S Grosjean, France, 6-3 6-4A Corretja Spain beat J Courier, United States, 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 S Schalken Netherlands beat K Kucera, Slovakia, 7-5 6-1Mariano Zabaleta, Argentina, beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov,Russia, 6-3, 6-3Tommy Haas, Germany, beat Wayne Ferreira, South Africa, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2)Daniel Vacek, Czech Republic, beat Tim Henman,, Britain, 6-3, 6-1Jiri Novak, Czech Republic, beat Cedric Pioline, France, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3Todd Martin, United States, beat Fabrice Santoro, France, 6-4, 6-2Nicolas Lapenti, Ecuador, beat Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3Sjeng Schalken, Netherlands, beat Karol Kucera, Slovakia, 7-5, 6-1

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