Hewitt the big test for Henman's feats of clay

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman left here to continue on the road to the French Open at next week's Hamburg Masters, only to find himself drawn to meet Lleyton Hewitt, his bête noire, in the first round.

Tim Henman left here to continue on the road to the French Open at next week's Hamburg Masters, only to find himself drawn to meet Lleyton Hewitt, his bête noire, in the first round.

The Australian has won all seven of their matches, but their meeting in Hamburg will be their first on a slow clay court. Given his encouraging form on clay this season - a quarter-final in Monte Carlo, where he won the doubles title, and an appearance in the third round of the singles here at the Rome Masters last week - Henman, seeded fifth in Hamburg, will be keen to seize the chance to start putting the record straight.

Hewitt, beaten in the second round here, last defeated Henman on indoor concrete in the semi-final in Rotterdam in February. The Australian former world No 1 beat Henman twice on grass in 2002, in the final at Queen's Club and the semi-finals at Wimbledon, en route to winning the title. Henman also lost to Hewitt in the Queen's final in 2001, and three times on concrete, at Indian Wells, Stuttgart and Scottsdale.

After a week of rain-delays here at the Rome Masters, the Argentinian David Nalbandian, Hewitt's victim in the Wimbledon final two years ago, advanced to today's final with a 6-7 6-1 6-4 win against Albert Costa, of Spain. Nalbandian, the fifth seed, will play Carlos Moya, of Spain, the sixth seed, who beat the unseeded Argentinian, Mariano Zabaleta, 6-3 6-4. Zabaleta beat Henman on Thursday.

Costa won the first set tie-break, 7-4, but was the first to be broken, for 2-0 and 5-1 in the second set. Although Costa broke for 2-0 in the final set, he double-faulted to lose his serve in the next game. Nalbandian made the decisive break for 5-4, converting the second of 15 break points he created in the set.

The 45-year-old John McEnroe is also in the Foro Italico with the sideshow of the senior Tour of Champions. The New Yorker defeated Italy's Omar Comporese in the opening round of the round-robin on Friday night, 6-1 6-1, and last night was due to play Thomas Muster, of Austria.

As ever, McEnroe has not been short of opinions, such as: "[Pete] Sampras could close his eyes in five years and beat 90 per cent of the players at Wimbledon." That was followed by "I could have gotten a wild card at Wimbledon any of the last 12 years", and "If 30 years from now we should be playing best-of-five sets, I'm not convinced we should be doing that".

McEnroe quite likes the current top two in the men's game, Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, and Andy Roddick, the US Open champion: "Roddick has got more of the personality, and Federer has got more of the overall ability. Roger's an incredible talent, but he lets his racket do the talking.

"Roddick is much more emotional, but he's also got this incredibly powerful game. That mix could be combustible in a good way for tennis if these guys remain healthy and started to play each other in a lot of big matches."

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