Henman's self-belief sees him through

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman did not need to be impressive to beat the Argentinian Gaston Gaudio in the second round of the Estoril Open yesterday - and rarely was.

But, fortunately for the fourth-seeded Briton, the 21-year-old Gaudio was off his game and unable to mount a serious challenge on a gloomy day on the Portuguese coast.

Solitary breaks of serve in both sets proved enough for Henman to advance to a quarter-final against the Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev or Markus Hipfl, of Austria, by the narrow margin of 6-4, 6-4.

Playing his first clay court event of the year, Henman has come through the opening two rounds without dropping a set, and his victory was his 20th of the season.

It was also played in conditions ideally suited to Henman, with a late rain shower seeming to disturb Gaudio. Henman needed five match points but managed to tie up the match minutes before a deluge arrived, sending Medvedev and Hipfl back to the locker-room with the Ukrainian 6-2, 5-4 ahead.

With the top seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov a first-round casualty, the tournament offers Henman a terrific chance of claiming his first title since he defeated Andre Agassi in Basle in October 1998, and his first on clay.

He had complained of swirling winds in his opener against the Spaniard Oscar Burrieza but, apart from the rain, both players were relatively untroubled by conditions on the more enclosed centre court. But each made an unnecessary number of unforced errors in a scrappy encounter.

Yet winning on clay is not something Henman has become particularly accustomed to, and progress here is good preparation for next month's French Open. But he is mixing up his game well, proving equally adept at the net and from the baseline.

Henman said: "Clay-court players find it hard to play against someone who serves and volleys like I do. My self-belief on clay is increasing."

Jason Stoltenberg, playing his first tournament since the Australian Open, upset the third-seeded Magnus Larsson 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, and Nicolas Massu reached his first ATP Tour quarter-final with 6-2, 6-3 victory over the No 6 seed, Sargis Sargsian, at the Atlanta Tennis Challenge on Wednesday.

Stoltenberg, runner-up here in 1997 and '98, had taken three months off to rehabilitate a bruised femur and to repair cartilage damage in his right knee.

Massu, ranked No 90, had a fairly easy time with Sargsian, never losing serve. A 20-year-old Chilean, he is the sixth-youngest player in the top 100 and this is only his 10th ATP Tour event.

The defending champion, Monica Seles, bounced back from her worst-ever defeat by beating Anna Smashnova, of Israel, 7-6, 6-0 in their second-round match at the WTA Bausch & Lomb Championships in Florida. In her last tournament, the Ericsson Open, the American reached the semi-finals before suffering a humiliating 6-0, 6-0 whitewash to Martina Hingis.

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