Laid-back style works for Henman

We are standing by for Wimbledon with skyscrapers. Tim Henman is likely to hear the familiar patter of rain here today, and forecasters say things may get wetter. Similar to last year, in fact, except this time the British No 1 is at the sharp end of the US Open for the first time in his career.

We are standing by for Wimbledon with skyscrapers. Tim Henman is likely to hear the familiar patter of rain here today, and forecasters say things may get wetter. Similar to last year, in fact, except this time the British No 1 is at the sharp end of the US Open for the first time in his career.

Weather permitting, the 30-year-old from Oxfordshire, having laboured with a suspect lower back for 13 hours and 31 minutes through 18 sets and three games to reach the quarter-finals, is due to play Dominik Hrbaty, a resident of Monte Carlo via Bratislava.

At least the rubberised concrete courts are expected to be dried faster this year - by 10 minutes - since the organisers have spent $500,000 (£288,000) on water-vacuum machines as an alternative to the kneel-down, hand-towel operation.

Nobody knows more about rain delays than Henman, whose momentum was drained when he battled with Goran Ivanisevic over three days in the 2001 Wimbledon semi-finals. Henman has grown to accept that certain events in tennis are beyond his control.

Accustomed to disappointments in major championships, Henman has tried to find ways of curbing his most dangerous opponent - himself - by tempering an eagerness to win with the patience to make the right moves at the right time. His current catchphrase is: "Trying harder is not trying better." He said: "There's no question I am playing a lot better and my attitude on court has been more decisive. I'm clearer in my mind and also more relaxed. It seems that if I try too hard that affects my performance in a negative way."

While acknowledging that the depth of talent in the men's game rarely allows for easy matches, it is fair to say that the fifth-seeded Henman has faced a comparatively manageable section of the draw, as when advancing to the semi-finals at the French Open in June.

Henman accepts that he is the favourite going into the match against Hrbaty, the 22nd seed, who is capable of playing excellent tennis or playing like a novice. Although Henman won their two previous matches in straight sets, indoors in 2000, the 26-year-old Hrbaty looms as an awkward type who could deny him a place in the semi-finals, where he would encounter either Roger Federer, the Swiss Wimbledon champion and world No 1, or the American icon, Andre Agassi.

En route to his triumph at the Paris Masters last November, Henman overcame, in turn, Sébastien Grosjean, who had eliminated him at both Queen's and Wimbledon, Gustavo Kuerten, Federer, and Andy Roddick. When it came to the final, however, Henman faced Andrei Pavel, of Romania, a talented and experienced contender, though not a name to strike a chord with the average follower of sport.

Regular Henman watchers fretted, fearing a letdown. But he prevailed. There is similar disquiet here that Henman may implode. The man himself appears to be too busy keeping his body together to worry. "It's taken a bad back at the beginning of the tournament for me to say to myself: 'Whatever happens happens, and, if anything good happens, it's going to be a big, big bonus. Coming on against Kiefer I felt very, very fresh and I'm sure as long as I don't have any expectations with my back, I'll be ready for the next one."

The sun shone for Lleyton Hewitt on Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday as the 2001 champion advanced to the last eight. The Australian fourth seed outclassed Karol Beck, of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, after an hour and 40 minutes.

Justine Henin-Hardenne said farewell to her women's singles title in the fourth round on Monday night and left Lindsay Davenport and Amélie Mauresmo to dispute who would supplant her as the world No 1.

Henin-Hardenne's defeat by Nadia Petrova, of Russia, 6-3, 6-2, made the Belgian the earliest top seed to depart the championships since Billie Jean King lost in the third round in 1973. Petrova, the 14th seed, now plays a compatriot, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Mary Pierce 7-6, 6-2.

Although Henin-Hardenne arrived in New York as a gold medalist at the Athens Olympics, she was far from in her best condition after missing so much of the season recovering from a viral infection. This was evident as the Belgian made 30 errors against Petrova, most worryingly on her celebrated backhand, with which she hit only three winners.

"There was less pressure in Athens," Henin-Hardenne said, "but here I never felt 100 per cent on the court. I was feeling less energy, and I never felt free in my head. I'm disappointed the way I lost, but not because I lost my place at No 1. I was not sure to keep that even if I went to the end of the tournament."

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