Henman's persistence ends barren spell

Tim Henman was entitled to beat his chest yesterday after finally rediscovering the Sunday punch with which to beat an opponent, thereby ending anembarrassing run of seven consecutive defeats in ATP Tourfinals and restoring the flicker of a smile to the face of British tennis.

Tim Henman was entitled to beat his chest yesterday after finally rediscovering the Sunday punch with which to beat an opponent, thereby ending anembarrassing run of seven consecutive defeats in ATP Tourfinals and restoring the flicker of a smile to the face of British tennis.

The 26-year-old from Oxfordshire overwhelmed the German Olympic silver medallist, Tommy Haas, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, to win the CA Trophy in Vienna, succeeding Greg Rusedski, his Davis Cup team-mate, as the champion.

It was Henman's fifth ATP Tour title and his first since defeating Andre Agassi in the Swiss Indoors final in Basle two years ago. Apart from adding $130,000 (£86,000) to his fortune, Henman's Austrian victory increases his prospects of qualifying for next month's Masters Cup in Lisbon.

Henman won titles in Sydney and Tashkent in 1997 and in Tashkent and Basle in 1998 before stumbling at the last hurdle in Doha, Rotterdam (twice), London's Queen's Club, Basle, Scottsdale and Cincinnati. In Cincinnati in August, Henman cast aside one psychological barrier by defeating Pete Sampras in straight sets, having lost to the Wimbledon champion in their six previous matches: but he was unable to beat Sweden's Thomas Enqvist in the final.

Haas, like Henman, has had a disappointing time in finals - yesterday brought his fourth successive defeat since winning his first ATP Tour title in Memphis last year.

Henman, the sixth seed, saved two match points en route to defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer in Saturday's semi-finals, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3, but the British No 1 was scarcely troubled by Haas until the concluding game. Then, serving for the match at 5-4, Henman recovered from 0-40, reaching deuce with his 10th ace and executing a backhand cross-court winner to convert his second match point after two hours and four minutes.

Serving with greater consistency than in some of the earlier rounds on the medium-pace hard court, Henman found that a break in each set (for 4-3 in the first, 2-1 in the second, and 3-2 in the third) was enough to frustrate Haas. The German twice threw his racket. The second time, in the eighth game of the third set, it landed in the crowd, waking up one or two of his supporters, who had hardly been stunned by his performance.

The opening six games were tight, Haas double-faulting in the seventh to weaken his cause and missing a break point two games later, which helped Henman take the set after 39 minutes. A splendid low forehand return by Henman enabled him to break in the third game of the second set, and Haas survived a break point in the opening game of the third set before making a mess of a forehand volley to lose the fifth game.

After that, Henman's determination ensured that the contest did not extend to the point where his concentration might have wavered. "I was trying not to think too much about all those lost finals," he said, having already satisfied himself that only the first of them could be attributed to ineptitude on his part. "I played badly against [Rainer] Schuttler in Doha last year," he said, "but the otherfinals have been close and didn't go my way."

Henman said he took heart from Australia's Pat Rafter, who lost five successive finals in 1997 before dismantling Rusedski to win the United States Open. "The only way I was going to break the run of losing finals was to keep getting to finals," Henman said. "If I can overcome the barrier of beating Pete, there's no doubt in my mind that I can overcome other hurdles."

The haul has proved to be longer than some of his supporters had anticipated, and the road became bumpier after what was perceived by many observers as Henman's failure at Wimbledon in July. Henman was beaten in five sets in the fourth round by Australia's Mark Philippoussis, one of the favourites. It had taken the skill and experience of Sampras to halt him in the previous two semi-finals.

Immediately after Wimbledon, Henman managed to win his two singles matches as Britain slid out of the Davis Cup World Group, beaten by Ecuador on grass at the All England Club.

Putting the disappointment of the relegation tie behind him, Henman enjoyed a most successful build-up to last month's United States Open. But on reached Flushing Meadows he was defeated by Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, in the third round.

Unlike Haas, Henman did not find a silver lining at the Olympics this time. But the metal polish will come out of the cupboard again when he returns from Vienna.

HENMAN'S RUN OF FINAL DEFEATS

Rainer Schuttler (Ger) 4-6 7-5 1-6 (Jan 1999, Doha, concrete) Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus) 2-6 6-7 (Feb 1999, Rotterdam, hard) Pete Sampras (US) 7-6 4-6 6-7 (June 1999, Queen's Club, grass) Karol Kucera (Slovak) 4-6 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-7 (Oct 1999, Basle, carpet) Cedric Pioline (Fr) 7-6 4-6 6-7 (Feb 2000, Rotterdam, hard) Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 4-6 6-7 (Mar 2000, Scottsdale, concrete) Thomas Enqvist (Swe) 6-7 4-6 (Aug 2000, Cincinnati, concrete)

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