Pain in the neck beats Henman

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The Independent Online

Coaches tell you to keep your eye on the ball, but we know we won't get anywhere unless we look where we are going. Tim Henman neglected to do the latter here, and it cost him a possible place in the quarter-finals of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

A self-inflicted neck injury caused the British No 1 to retire yesterday after he lost the opening set of his fourth round match against Roger Federer, of Switzerland, 6-2. Henman had received treatment after the previous game to relieve a stiff neck and muscular spasms.

Injuries during play are hard enough to take, but Henman ricked his neck because he was not paying attention when going through a door outside the locker room on his way to the Grandstand Court for his third round match against Felix Mantilla, of Spain, on Monday evening.

"I was looking down, and suddenly noticed somebody was also going through the door," Henman recounted. "We didn't actually collide, but I had my bags on my shoulders and I just sort of flinched out of the way. Immediately I felt a pain right at the top of the neck. Having got through yesterday's match, I hoped it would settle down and be looser today. But is was the opposite. There was a sort of spasm around my neck and my back."

It was only the second time Henman had retired during a match in 504 career contests. The other occasion was against Sargis Sargsian, of Armenia, in the first round of the French Open in 1998, will see a doctor today. "I think I just need to let it settle down," he said. "Fortunately, there isn't an immediate rush, Monte Carlo [on 15 April] being my next event."

The Grandstand Court was not exactly a happy hunting ground yesterday. As Henman waited to play his match, two Argentinians, Juan Ignacio Chela and Gaston Gaudio, battled to the point of collapse. Gaudio was the one to fall. He was coaxed back to his feet after treatment for cramp, only for another spasm to strike after he had broken a racket in anger. This time, with Chela leading, 6-1, 5-7, 4-3, Gaudio staggered towards the umpire's chair and retired.

In the quarter-finals, Chela will play Marcelo Rios, the Chilean former world No 1, who defeated Alex Corretja, of Spain, 6-2, 6-2.

On the Stadium Court, Andre Agassi, the defending champion, advanced to the quarter finals, defeating Thomas Johansson, of Sweden, 7-5, 6-2.

The Las Vegan will play Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, in the last eight. Lapentti wore down Adrian Voinea, of Romania, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Agassi has produced breathtaking shots in his career, the latest, a running cross-court forehand on a break-point of the opening game of the second set, illuminated yesterday's match. Agassi seemed to enjoy it, too. "That was a beauty," he said. "Sometimes those shots happen."

Venus Williams, the defending women's singles champion, will play either her younger sister, Serena, or Martina Hingis, the Swiss former world No 1, in the semi-finals. Venus reached the last four yesterday after winning a stirring contest against Elena Dementieva, of Russia, the No 12 seed, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Dementieva at times displayed the powerful, free-flowing shots of a competitor with nothing to lose. This was hardly surprising given the drama of her marathon contest against Anne Kremer, of Luxembourg, in the fourth round, in which the Russian saved six points before winning on her sixth match point, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6.

The tie break ­ 16-14 ­ was the longest in the final set of a singles match in the history of women's professional tennis. Dementieva, who saved one match point en route to the shoot-out, fended off five more before prevailing after two hours and 41 minutes.

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