Hewitt victory gives Henman faith and hope
Monday 27 March 2006
A pessimist might suggest that Tim Henman is facing disaster in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open here today. The surname of his German opponent, Simon Greul, sounds just like the word "greuel", which translates as "horror".
Henman, however, is too level-headed to attach major importance to any single performance, despite the fact that the 31-year-old Briton's results here could have a significant bearing on his future. The combined effects of a degenerative back problem, playing conditions increasingly tailored to a new generation of baseline sluggers and a year of moderate results have seen the former world No 4 drop to 56 in the rankings, his lowest placing for 10 years. He knows that soon his ranking might not be high enough to gain direct entry into some of the summer's Masters series events.
He says it is unlikely that he would join the scramble to qualify and would either request wild cards or play in lesser events while sharpening his game for the Grand Slam tournaments. Most importantly, he retains faith in his ability to live with the best, a belief underlined by victories in the first two rounds here over Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt.
If the win against Safin featured some of the best tennis Henman has played in the last 18 months, the defeat of Hewitt was a major fillip. The Australian has slipped to world No 14 but had won all eight of their previous encounters. Henman played a clever game, resisting the temptation to charge the net as he had done in the past against Hewitt, and won more emphatically than the 7-6, 6-3 scoreline suggested.
"When I get my opportunities in tournaments I think I'm ready to take them," Henman said. "Whether I'm ranked 75 or 25 or whatever, I'm playing good tennis. That's the most important thing. It's going to be a long year. If I stay healthy, fingers crossed there's going to be a lot of tennis ahead. If I'm playing like this I don't have any doubts. My ranking is not where I'm accustomed to it being, but I'm going to work hard to get back up to where I think I belong."
Henman should fancy his chances of reaching the last 16, where Andy Roddick would be his likely opponent. At No 130, Greul, 24, is the 10th-highest ranked German and while his wins here over Paradorn Srichaphan and Dominik Hrbaty command respect, he is making his first appearance in a Masters event and had to save two match points in qualifying.
Greg Rusedski, like Henman, recognises that the modern preference for slower balls and surfaces has forced net specialists like the British pair to rethink. While Henman proved against Hewitt that he has the all-round ability to win in different ways, Rusedski's 6-4, 6-4 defeat by Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela showed that he is not as well equipped. The British No 2's lack of a potent backhand can be ruthlessly exposed by a baseliner with groundstrokes as fluent as Chela's.
David Nalbandian and Nikolai Davydenko, the third and fifth seeds, both went a set down before overcoming Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis respectively, while Amélie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova, the highest remaining women's seeds, advanced at the expense of Marion Bartoli and Maria Elena Camerin. Jill Craybas, who on Saturday defeated the defending women's champion, Kim Clijsters, made further progress by knocking out another seed, the Czech Republic's Klara Koukalova, dropping only three games in the process.
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