Rafael Nadal has a style that many of the best players have yet to fathom, but if anyone knows his game it is Carlos Moya. The French Open champion regards Moya, a fellow Majorcan, as his mentor and closest friend on tour, but the 29-year-old showed no mercy when they met in the second round of the Nasdaq-100 Open here last night.
Moya beat the No 2 seed 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 in a manner that would surely have surprised even the likes of Roger Federer, who has lost three of his four matches against Nadal, including last month's final of the Dubai Duty Free Open. Indeed, the world No 1's only victory over the Spaniard came in a pulsating five-set final here last year.
Having lost the first set all too quickly, Moya soon had his 19-year-old friend scampering around every corner of the court. His bludgeoning forehand was a particularly potent weapon, but there was also plenty of finesse, typified by the lobs which finished the second and third sets. Nadal looked particularly vulnerable on his backhand and said later that he was still troubled by the ankle injury which had kept him out of the game for three months.
It was not the best of days for some of the tournament's biggest names. Justine Henin-Hardenne, the other French Open champion, became the first major loser in the women's competition when she was beaten 7-5, 6-4 by Meghann Shaugnessy, of the United States, while Andre Agassi, six times a champion here, announced his withdrawal from the tournament, saying he was "way less than 100 per cent" because of a back injury.
Agassi admitted that it was "definitely possible" that he might never play again, but still hopes to compete at Wimbledon. He is missing the entire clay court season to improve his chances of doing so.
The American's announcement came just a few hours after the longest day in Tim Henman's career ended in the sweetest of victories. It was at 1.35 yesterday morning, in front of a surprisingly large crowd of several hundred spectators, that Marat Safin served a double-fault to give the Briton a hugely encouraging 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Henman arrived at Crandon Park at 9.15 on Thursday morning, practised at 10, went to the gym at 11 and returned to his hotel at midday to prepare for his evening match. More than an inch of rain half Miami's average for the month halted play for several hours in the afternoon, but the weather relented and the penultimate match, between Sania Mirza and Anna Tatishvili, started just before 9.30pm. However, it developed into a two hour, 40-minute marathon.
Having been told at 10.30 that they would not have to play if it meant starting after 11.30, Henman and Safin declined a later offer to hold their match over. When they finally started 20 minutes after midnight, the Briton was immediately into his stride. He served with great accuracy and returned even more impressively, seeing the ball so clearly that he regularly chipped and charged to break the hard-hitting Russian four times.
Although Henman's ranking has been on the slide (at No 56 he is now British No 3 and needs to match his quarter-final performance here last year to avoid slipping further), he feels he has been playing well and was not surprised by this performance. "I had a good game plan," Henman said. "I kept putting the pressure on, irrespective of his passing ability."
The tactics will change in the next round against Lleyton Hewitt as Henman revealed that he might have finally found a way to beat an opponent who has won all eight of their encounters. They played a practice match in Indian Wells earlier this month and Henman, adopting a more patient approach, won 6-3, 6-3. "I feel good about my game and I don't think he's playing as well as he can do," Henman said.
* Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Katie O'Brien and Claire Curran have been named in the British squad for the Fed Cup matches in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, next month.