Henman's Lisbon hopes ended by Costa defeat

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The Independent Online

Lisbon may be in Britain's time zone, but Tim Henman is no longer synchronised with the leading eight players who will compete for the Masters Cup in the Portuguese capital on 28 November.

Lisbon may be in Britain's time zone, but Tim Henman is no longer synchronised with the leading eight players who will compete for the Masters Cup in the Portuguese capital on 28 November.

"Bewildered" of Oxford forfeited his last chance of qualifying for the ATP Tour finale as of right yesterday after losing his opening match at the Paris Indoor Championships in straight sets to Albert Costa. The Spaniard had not won a match indoors until last year and had lost three times in a row to Henman without winning a set, most recently in Stuttgart three weeks ago.

Henman, seeded No 9, needed to reach the final here to secure a place in the Masters Cup. Only a series of withdrawals can help him now. "Maybe a couple of hit-men would give me a chance," he joked at the end of a mainly downbeat interview.

With six men chasing the two remaining qualifying places, Henman will be lucky to go to Lisbon as an alternate, even though doubts have been cast about some of the candidates.

Lleyton Hewitt, who needed to reach the semi-finals in Paris to qualify, withdrew from the tournament yesterday because of a viral infection. The 19-year-old from Adelaide still hopes to be fit to pursue points in Stockholm next week and to to take his place in both Lisbon and Barcelona, where Australia are due to defend the Davis Cup in the final against Spain on 8 December.

But Hewitt is clearly worried by the symptoms - "stomach pains, a sickly feeling, and a lack of energy" - which have troubled him since he played in Toronto at the beginning of August. "I went to a doctor in Toronto, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, two in New York, one in Sydney at the Olympics, one in Belgium and two in Switzerland. I've had a lot of blood tests, and I had cameras put down my throat. I've been to homeopaths, I've been to osteopaths. No one can put the finger on what it is."

Henman, who converted only one of five break points against Costa - when already trailing 4-1 in the second set - deserved nothing better than a 6-4, 6-4 defeat.

Costa, No 30 in the Champions Race, is perhaps best known in Britain as a Wimbledon refusenik, along with his compatriot Alex Corretja, after both withdrew from this year's championships in protest at the seeding system.

It was obvious yesterday that Costa is motivated to win a place in the Davis Cup final, to be played on an indoor clay court, but that does not excuse the poor quality of Henman's performance on a medium-pace indoor hard court similar to the one on which he beat the Spaniard in Stuttgart.

"To play as badly as I did in such an important tournament and at such an important time of year is very disappointing and slightly bewildering," Henman said. "I felt like I was playing uphill. I wasn't putting him under any pressure. If you give someone like him time, he's going to run you all over the court. That's exactly what happened.

"To give him credit, he played a very, very good match. He was outserving me, which is not a great start. And from the back, he was dictating things. At times when I was at the net and bringing him forward, he was beating me for angles. So there weren't too many positives. I hit a couple of good passing shots, but beyond that there wasn't a great deal working."

* The 17-year-old Belgian Kim Clijsters made a fine debut at the Chase Championships, defeating Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the WTA Tour's season finale.

Results from the $2.95 million Paris Masters Series tennis tournament (seeds in parentheses):

Singles First Round

Gianluca Pozzi, Italy, def. Karol Kucera, Slovakia, 4-6, 7-5 (6). Jan-Michael Gambill, USA, def. Andrei Pavel, Romania, 4-1 retired. Arnaud Clement, France, def. Greg Rusedski, Britain, 7-6 (5), 7-5. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, def. Roger Federer, Switzerland, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Second Round

Albert Costa, Spain, def. Tim Henman (9), Britain, 6-4, 6-4. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (4), Russia, def Magnus Gustafsson, Sweden, 7-6 (6), 6-4. Gustavo Kuerten (1), Brazil, def. Chris Woodruff, USA, 6-3, 7-6 (0). Wayne Ferreira, South Afrifca, def. Max Mirnyi, Belarus, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Marc Rosset, Switzerland, def. Cedric Pioline (14), France, 7-5, 7-5.