All except one of the players seeded above Tim Henman have evaporated as if in a mirage here at the Qatar Open, while the British No 1 advanced to the quarter-finals with a display of smart tennis against Juan Ignacio Chela, of Argentina, yesterday.
Andy Roddick, the world No 1, was the most notable casualty, losing to the experienced Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden, 6-3, 6-4, at a time when the windy conditions not only affected the flight of the ball but also gave the court a coating of sand. A gritty performance was needed, and Bjorkman ranked No 30, delivered one.
This left the fourth-seeded Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean as the tournament's top dog, and there is a strong possibility that he and Henman, the seventh seed, will meet in the semi-finals. The only other seed remaining is the No 8, Agustin Calleri of Argentina in the opposite half of the draw.
Grosjean was the last player to take a set off Henman - the opening set of their second-round match at the Paris Masters last November. Henman has now won 15 sets in a row.
Henman's immediate concern is to make sure his attacking game unhinges Sargis Sargsian, an Armenian baseliner, as successfully as it frustrated Chela during the Briton's 6-3, 6-4 victory.
In the third round of the 2002 United States Open, on a similar rubberised-concrete court, the rangy Argentinian had made Henman's play look naive. Henman's calm confidence yesterday enabled him to torment Chela with crisp volleys and draw him in for the kill with beautifully-timed drop-shots.
Although there were blemishes, Henman served well enough overall to ensure that he was not damaged by four double-faults. A break for 4-2 secured the opening set, Henman delighting the spectators by returning a shot through his legs before converting the first set-point with a forehand volley.
"Those type of things are easy when you don't have time to think," Henman said. "It all happened quickly after Chela clipped the net cord."
The party-piece put Henman in a happy frame of mind for the start of the second set, when he unnerved his opponent with a volley for 30-40. Although Henman hit a backhand long on that opportunity, he lured Chela into missing a backhand half-volley on a second break-point.
Henman survived his only crisis after double-faulting to 30-40 in the second game of the set, adding to his supporters' anxiety by double-faulting again on his first game-point. He managed to hold for 2-0 after four deuces, and would have finished the match more comfortably but for his impetuosity and Chela's determination after the Argentinian found himself 0-40 down in the third game.
The crowd was unable to settle until Henman completed the job, stretching to hit an angled backhand volley on the first match point after an hour and 17 minutes.
Roddick looked insecure from the moment he stepped on the blustery court to play Bjorkman, an opponent who had caused him problems in the past. The Swede's steady, aggressive play, both when serving and returning, enabled him to keep Roddick guessing and making errors.
Bjorkman broke for 4-2 in the opening set, Roddick hitting a wild forehand over the baseline, and broke again in the first game of the second set, Roddick double-faulting and then netting a forehand.
The crucial moment after that was Bjorkman's winning backhand block-volley at 4-3, 15-30. Having held for 5-3, the Swede forced Roddick to save two more break-points and then served the match out to love after 69 minutes.
Roddick belted his chair with his racket before leaving the court, fuming at himself. Later he said: "[What went wrong today] was a combination of things. Everybody is going to have off-days. I'm playing against the best in the world on a daily basis.
"Jonas played very well. The windy conditions were difficult, but I don't think anybody can help that. I don't think I served well and I was missing forehands."Reuse content