Murray is best of British

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An ability to finish, or "execute", as Andre Agassi terms it, is the hallmark of champions, and Murray only looked as callow as he is when Henman was at his mercy at the first time of asking, after 74 minutes.

Murray made amends, to himself, and to those who foresee the brightest of futures for him, when it came to the third-set tie-break, which he secured, 7-4, on his second match point after two hours and 13 minutes.

He thereby became the first British opponent to put one over Henman since Greg Rusedski beat him, 6-2, 6-4, at the 1998 ATP Tour Championships in Hanover.

How much Henman was affected by his chronic lower-back problem was difficult to judge. Henman said he felt fine but he had the problem area taped and, during the opening two sets, he seemed to lack mobility on certain shots.

Murray did not help by dictating the course of the opening set with solid serving and a mixture of punishing groundstrokes, spins, slices and drives and, as his confidence grew, Henman was made to look ordinary and, at times, rather forlorn.

The 42 ranking places separating the pair seemed to shrink as the 70th-ranked Murray won the first four games, and 18 minutes elapsed before Henman put a score on the board, holding to 1-4.

Murray barely altered his stride, winning the set after 34 minutes, dropping only eight points on his serve.

Henman, who won the toss and chose to serve, only to be broken in the first game of the match, found himself serving again at the start of both the second and third sets. In the second set he broke for 3-1 but was unable to consolidate the gain. Murray broke back instantly to love and then held to love. Henman lost his serve in the ninth game, at which point the spectators, many of whom have watched Henman play here for the past nine years, prepared for a swift ending.

When it came to the crunch, however, Murray was unable to deliver. He denied afterwards that this was because of nerves at playing the British tennis icon on the other side of the net. After losing the opening two points, he hit an ace for 15-30, only to be beaten by a cross-court backhand. Henman, on break point, hit a deep drive, which Murray turned into the net.

Henman then held to love and broke in the 12th game. At 15-40, Murray, attempting a sliced backhand, could not avoid the net.

After Henman held to love at the start of the third set, it seemed that the match was in the balance. The senior man was playing comparatively well again, and Murray seemed to be playing more loose shots than before. The set continued with serve as both players jockeyed for an advantage.

The action took place under the watchful eye of a British umpire, Gerry Armstrong, an official so experienced that he was the man who disqualified John McEnroe at the 1990 Australian Open. Armstrong had few problems, although in the ninth game of the final set Murray did walk up to him to query a line call.

The tension was palpable when it came to the tie-break, though it was Murray who swept ahead, just as he had at the start of the match. He won the first three points en route to leading 5-1. Henman then made him pause with a forehand volley. Henman then went 6-3 down before saving the first match point. Murray then won the concluding rally with a forehand cross-court volley.

There were no histrionics at the end. The players simply walked to the net, shook each other's hands, and walked over to pay their respects to Armstrong.

That was the only time the match seemed run of the mill. The reality was the contest was probably a landmark in the British game.

Henman will next play Paris before taking a five-week break to work on his game and fitness in preparation for the new year. He still speaks positively about being pleased with everything except his results and, in common with Murray, expresses the hope it will not be long before they meet in a tournament final.

* The world No 1, Roger Federer, and the defending champion, Marat Safin, withdrew injured from the Paris Masters yesterday.

Teenage star hails 'biggest win of career so far' after toppling hero

Andrew Murray admitted it had been emotional playing against Tim Henman, one of his childhood heroes, but was adamant it was the most important win of his fledgling career.

Murray said: "This was the biggest win of my career so far, because Tim has been one of the most consistent players of the last decade. I probably wouldn't have been playing the game but for Tim. He was the player who inspired me. By his standards, Tim's had a bad year. But if he comes back next year strongly, he could be up in the top 20 again, even the top 10."

Murray admitted it had been hard to treat it as just another match. He added: "There is obviously emotion involved because I have so much respect for Tim and for what he has done for British tennis. It would be nice to play him in a final because it would mean we'd both had a good week. At the end he just said 'good luck, well played, good match'."

Henman was full of praise for Murray. "I have to give credit to Andy," he said. "He was the one who dealt with the situation better."

Asked about a changing of the guard he said: "I don't know what this mysterious thing is. Is it a flag? Is it a torch? Is it a baton? Whatever you think it is you can pass it to Andy and on this occasion I won't be offended."