Murray in Henman territory

End of season could bring meeting of generations - and changing of the guard

Bundled out of his favourite event in the second round, Henman has won just one match subsequently and has not played since the US Open, where he exited in the opening round almost six weeks ago.

Commenting via the preferred podium of his website, the 31-year-old Henman said: "It has been very frustrating and I have had to be very patient, but I've tried to be very sensible... it's tough enough to compete at the highest level when you're fully fit."

His message to the faithful ended with the hope that "I can really get stuck in over the next four weeks and finish the year on a positive note".

While he rested the sore back, the advent of a new kid on the block will not have escaped Tim's attention. Andy Murray's stock has risen in inverse proportion to the decline of Henman's and they could meet up, or even play each other, in tournaments at Basle and Paris before the season's end next month.

Ever the good sport, Henman has lavished praise on the 18-year-old Scot, who has cracked the top 100 and reached his first ATP Tour final much earlier than Henman himself managed. We have not yet reached the stage of handing over the baton, but there is a distinct clatter of boots as the changing of the guard nears.

The way Murray made the supreme exponent of men's tennis, Roger Federer, work for the Bangkok title last weekend spectacularly underlined what has been evident since the lad made his mark in the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois tournament at Queen's - that, glory be, we have someone in the land talented enough to ensure British tennis does not revert to the dark ages when Henman packs it in.

That sensational wild-card week in Thailand overturned the plans laid by Murray's mother, Judy, and his coach, Mark Petchey, to see out the season picking up a few ranking points in Challenger events. "It is so important to take advantage of those wild-card opportunities Andy has been getting to push up the rankings rather than grinding through the Challenger circuits," said Judy. Now Murray is looking to play until the second week in November before taking a break. He has been offered a wild card into Basle, starting on 24 October, and will then attempt to qualify for the final Masters Series of 2005 in Paris.

Next will come the fulfilment of a commitment to a Challenger in Bratislava. "Then, hopefully, that will be the end of it," said Judy Murray, after her son retired with a pulled hamstring in the quarter-finals of a Challenger in Mons, Belgium, on Friday evening saying, "I thought it was better to stop than risk further damage", and adding: "My body is just saying it needs a bit of a break."

After propelling his ranking all the way up to 72, Andy will travel to a sports institute in Dijon for a three-day series of tests on his body and his fitness before preparing for the Australian circuit in the new year. Murray's year started, following a spell sidelined (like Henman) by back problems, at a Challenger in Barletta, Italy, in March. He lost in the second round and picked up £250 prize money. Now, having won 12 of his 21 matches on the main tour and the Davis Cup, and 38 out of 55 in all 2005 competitions, Murray has pocketed in excess of £100,000, his biggest paydays coming for his run to the third round at Wimbledon (£25,510) and as the Bangkok runner-up (£25,000).

Success, but not the full measure of it, had been foreseen by Judy Murray. In January, she decided against extending the 10 years she had served as the Scottish national coach. "The coaching demanded enormous commitment and a lot of travelling," she said. "Andy was starting to do better and co-ordinating everything he needed to do was more time-consuming, but I didn't resign in the knowledge that my son's career would take off. I have always had a great belief in him, but certainly didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

"He has handled all of this very well. He seems to take things in his stride and is unfazed by everything that has happened. He has an incredible belief in his ability. He has always known where he wanted to go, and suddenly he is well on his way there. He says, 'This is what I wanted, this is what it's all about'. He is very comfortable with it and that's a huge advantage."

So far, the progress for Murray has been readily accomplished. "When you look back, it was relatively easy to get from 1,000 to 400 in the rankings," Judy said. "Then a bit tougher from 400 to 200, and even tougher into the top 100. Once there, you have to do much more week in, week out to make any big jump. Next month he has 24 points to defend that he won in Futures last year, but his ranking should remain where it is. It certainly won't go down." It might even soar again should Basle, or even better, Paris, stage a Henman-Murray final.

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