New Henman finally cracks Hewitt code

Briton's patient game pays off with victory over his nemesis

Tim Henman beat Lleyton Hewitt. It is a sentence Henman probably thought he might never read after eight successive defeats against the Australian, but the 31-year-old Briton finally got his man here yesterday in the second round of the Nasdaq-100 Open, winning 7-6, 6-3 after a contest lasting an hour and three-quarters. No wonder he clenched his fist in celebration.

Hewitt had been Henman's bête noire ever since their first meeting in Arizona six years ago. The Australian has even got the better of Henman three times on grass and when they last met in competition, on Cincinnati's hard courts in 2004, Hewitt lost only five games.

However, a more recent encounter, combined with a slide in form which has seen Hewitt drop to No 14 in the world rankings, had given Henman reason for hope. They played a practice match in Indian Wells last week which Henman won 6-3, 6-3 and the experience persuaded the Briton to adopt a different strategy. In the past he had always taken an aggressive approach, moving into the net at every opportunity, only for the former Wimbledon champion to relish the target his opponent presented and hit a succession of winning passing shots.

The new game plan was clear from the start. Henman was prepared to bide his time and it was not until the third point of the third game that he hit his first volley. Although he approached the net carefully, Henman still dictated the pace. He hit several outstanding backhand winners down the line and would have won the first set earlier but for a number of poor forehands and the problems posed at one end where he had trouble with the strong sun and a stiff breeze.

As it was, the first set developed into a cliffhanger lasting an hour and 12 minutes. Both players dropped serve twice in the first eight games before Henman broke to lead 6-5. A remarkable game followed as a seemingly nervous Henman failed to convert five set points before Hewitt levelled the scores when the Briton put an attempted drop volley into the net.

The drama continued in the tie-break. Henman led 4-1 with two breaks, only for Hewitt to win the next four points. When Henman hit a backhand winner at 6-5 it was no more than he deserved, for he had played nearly all the best tennis of the set.

Despite a brief wobble in the fourth game, when Henman wasted two points for a 4-0 lead, the outcome of the second set was rarely in doubt and victory was clinched by a forehand volley following an excellent approach shot. With Henman you learn never to take anything for granted, but there is every chance of further progress as his next opponent is Simon Greul, a 25-year-old German ranked No 130 in the world who yesterday surprised the No 17 seed, Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty.

"I had to be a lot more patient, obviously a lot more selective when I came forward," Henman said afterwards. "With the way I've played on clay over the years I've got a lot more confidence in my baseline game, but it's still difficult for me. There are still times where I see a second serve and I say: 'I'm coming in here.' Then I have to say: 'Maybe not. If I'm hitting the ball well from the baseline, let's see if I can open up an opportunity.' And I did that well."

He added: "I still would like to think that for the majority of my matches I'm going to be the one that can look to get forward and chip and charge and be aggressive, because that's the way that I feel more comfortable and I think I'm better at it. But you know what, it's great to beat a player of Hewitt's calibre playing a different kind of style"

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea