Masters defeat for 'choker' Henman

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Tim Henman brushed aside talk of choking after losing a seventh consecutive final against Swede Thomas Enqvist in the ATP Masters Series in Cincinnati.

Tim Henman brushed aside talk of choking after losing a seventh consecutive final against Swede Thomas Enqvist in the ATP Masters Series in Cincinnati.

The British number one, who had played dazzling tennis to spike big guns Pete Sampras and Gustavo Kuerten en route to the final, could not tame seventh seed Enqvist, who served brilliantly in a 7-6 (7/5) 6-4 win.

But 15th seed Henman said: "I can absolutely say that I did not lose this match, Thomas won it.

"There were so many good points to this week. If I play like this and keep on improving there is no reason why I cannot win a major title soon.

"Of course, it was frustrating to lose. But I also beat Pete (Sampras) for the first time and also Guga (double French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, current points leader).

"Should have, could was still a great match. I'm struggling to improve, but I've been working hard since the end of last year and the results are starting to come."

He added: "I've talked about being patient and that's what I still have to do. I didn't change my game against Thomas. I serve and volley, I play to my strengths.

"It doesn't matter if I'm playing before 14,000 at Wimbledon all cheering for me or here where there is less attention - I'm playing for myself and that's the correct attitude."

The Swede said: "I served well when I needed it. I was trying to hit big second serves since he comes to the net. I didn't lose my serve once, I can be happy about that."

In the opening set, Henman's serve failed him at the crucial moment, enabling Enqvist to take the tie-break 7-5.

Henman had also squandered a couple of break points in Enqvist's first two service games and it proved costly for him.

Enqvist, who beat unseeded Frenchman Arnaud Clement in straight sets 6-2 6-2 in his semi-final, made a shaky start.

But he began to find his rhythm and Henman had to keep his nerve to hold after a double fault gave Enqvist hope of a break in the ninth game at 15-30.

Henman served strongly to level at 5-5, but wasted two break points in the next game. He failed to control a forehand volley on the first and then sliced a backhand approach wide to fritter away the second.

Trailing 5-6, Henman served convincingly to take the opening set into a tie-break.

Although the British number one recovered from a break of serve early in that tie-break, at 5-5 a double fault gifted Enqvist a set point which he seized it gratefully, outvolleying Henman at the net to take both the set and the initiative.

Henman's wavering serve carried through to the start of the second set and Enqvist looked to be in firm control of the match, leading 1-0 with an early break.

Enqvist held for 2-0, but Henman stopped the rot with a solid service game to give his faltering confidence a timely boost.

Henman had 0-30 on the Enqvist serve in the fourth game, but the Swede recovered strongly to lead 3-1.

Henman survived break point at 1-3 and held for 2-3, but once again he could not seize his chance after carving out a break point in the sixth game, a wild forehand letting Enqvist off the hook.

Enqvist's solid serve temporarily misfired and Henman had two more break points to square the set at 4-4, but he could not take them and the Swede led 5-3.

A backhand cross-court passing shot and a blistering forehand winner on the service return gave Enqvist two match points.

The Swede squandered both with wide service returns and Henman served strongly, delivering his ninth ace of the match, to throw himself a lifeline at 4-5.

Enqvist, serving for the match, produced his 10th ace, and when Henman netted a backhand the Swede had his third match point, but hit a forehand long.

Enqvist's 11th ace presented a fourth championship point, but Henman charged the net and the Swede faltered again to prolong the action.

The response was a 12th ace from Enqvist and a fifth match point which the Swede took to wrap up a deserved victory when Henman was left stranded as the ball clipped the top of the net.