Seeking something different to mark his 30th birthday yesterday, Tim Henman chose to advance to the quarter-finals at the US Open for the first time in his career.
Closing his mind to worries about his suspect lower back, the British No 1 set about the challenge of overcoming Nicolas Kiefer, of Germany.
By a twist of fortune, Kiefer, who had not lost a set en route to the fourth round, was the one to break down, retiring after injuring his right wrist in the third game of the final set to hand Henman victory, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7, 3-0, after three hours and 41 minutes. It was not Kiefer's day. He also had a point deducted by the Australian umpire, Wayne McEwan, for two code violations swearing after being called for a foot-fault, and hitting a ball into the crowd after missing an elementary shot.
Henman, who had doubted whether he would be fit to start the tournament, has now been on court for 13 hours and 31 minutes, and has played 18 sets and three games. He now meets the 22nd seed Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, for a place in the semi-finals. That would match his progress at the French Open in June, the only Grand Slam outside Wimbledon in which he has reached the last four. Henman has won his two previous matches against Hrbaty, both played indoors in 2000.
"Mentally, I've had a different approach this year to the French Open and here," Henman said. "Whoever I play in my next match, I'll feel like I'm favourite, but I'm determined to try and play in as relaxed a frame of mind as I can. Going into the fifth set today, I said to myself, 'You're playing well, you're playing the right way. Whatever will happen, will happen.'"
The opening set was a letdown for Henman, who recovered from 0-4, only to lose the tie-break, 7-5, after 64 minutes. Having started the match as if he had left his serve in the locker-room, Henman lost 16 of the first 22 points before holding to love for 1-4. Henman returned well in the sixth game to put Kiefer at 0-40, helped by the German's double-fault on the fourth point. Kiefer saved two of the break points, but Henman out-rallied him to convert the third for 2-4. Although Henman's serve went astray in the seventh game as he double-faulted to 0-40, he was able to save four break points to hold.
The eighth game was a bizarre episode for Kiefer. He was twice called for foot-faults on his second serve and his reaction brought him a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, but he managed to save four break points.
Henman broke for 5-5 with a forehand lob, but was second best in the tie-break after Kiefer drove a forehand down the line for 5-3.
The second set also appeared to be going Kiefer's way after he broke for 3-1. But Henman was able to win the next five games to level the contest. "I still felt confident and comfortable with my style even when I was a break down," Henman said. Henman's shots continued to flow in the third set, which he would have won without dropping a game had Kiefer not found the will to save two set points when serving at 0-5, 15-40. Henman then stepped up confidently and served out the seventh game to love, converting his third set point with an ace.
During the change-over, Kiefer had treatment to his lower back, but the ailment did not prevent him from staging a comeback. He won the fourth set on a tie-break, 7-4.
Henman broke for 2-0 in the final set and then served away a break point to hold. Kiefer damaged his wrist while winning the opening two points of the third game. After a lengthy consultation with the trainer, he decided he could not continue. "Everything was OK until I made a reflex volley in that third game," he said. "After that I could not hold my racket."
Roger Federer, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and world No 1, also advanced to his first quarter-final here with a walkover against Andrei Pavel, of Romania, who withdrewbecause of a back injury. Federer now plays Andre Agassi, the sixth seed, who defeated Sargis Sargsian, of Armenia, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
Lindsay Davenport advanced to the women's quarter-finals, defeating her compatriot Venus Williams 7-5, 6-4.Reuse content