Timing being everything, Tim Henman took advantage when the clocks were turned back an hour on Sunday. Displaying the early-morning zeal of a German tourist, the British No 1 tossed his towel on a chair on the Centre Court at the Paris Masters and practised for three hours against three different hitting partners.
The work-out appeared to remove Henman's phobia concerning the indoor tournament here. In the past, the "pressure of expectation" in trying to qualify for the Masters Cup made him feel that his feet were sticking to the court. With no chance of gaining a place in the Masters Cup in Houston next month, Henman, ranked 31st in the world, relaxed into his game yesterday and had little trouble winning his first round match against Nikolay Davydenko, of Russia, 6-3, 6-4.
"At the beginning of the practice session on Sunday I still wasn't timing the ball," Henman said. "I was finding it pretty difficult to adjust. And by the end of it, I felt a lot more comfortable, and it began to show in the way I was playing today, I think."
Davydenko has not been at his best of late. Ranked No 46, this was his eighth defeat in a row. Henman beat him by the same score in their only previous match, in the third round in Washington DC en route to winning the title there in July.
Still, while Henman was recovering after shoulder surgery last December, Davydenko won the Adelaide tournament. The Russian went on to win the Estoril title in April. His elimination of Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, in the first round of the French Open is also worth an asterisk. It would be harsh to suggest that Henman's biggest challenge yesterday was in ignoring the irritating noises made by youngsters up in the cheaper seats - "I wasn't going to start letting that frustrate me," he said - but Davydenko rarely threatened, and at one stage played into Henman's hands by resorting to serve-and-volley.
One break, for 5-3, was enough for Henman to secure the opening set, which he served out to love, finishing with an ace. Davydenko double-faulted to lose his serve in the opening game of the second set. He broke back to 2-2 only to double-fault to gift Henman a 5-4 lead. Henman had to rescue two break points when serving for the match, saving the second with his fifth ace.
Henman's rigorous preparation, reflected in his sharpness yesterday, will be put to the test in the second round when he plays the Frenchman, Sebastien Grosjean, one of five men battling here for the eighth and last place in the Masters Cup. Grosjean, seeded seventh, has loomed large in Henman's season. In Hamburg in May, when Henman began to feel he was playing "proper tennis" for the first time since his shoulder injury, he defeated Grosjean in three sets on clay.
When Henman's favourite weeks of grass-court tennis came in June, however, Grosjean pulled the lawns from under him in the semi-finals at the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's and in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. "I suppose this is a good opportunity to try and get some revenge on his home turf, if you like," Henman said. "He's played very well here in the past and I think, in all honesty, there's a lot more at stake for him than me. I've got to try and use that to my advantage."
Grosjean, given a bye in the first round as a seeded player, needs to win the tournament to have a chance of competing in the Masters Cup.Reuse content