One down, six to go. Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski won their opening matches yesterday, but in contrasting circumstances. Henman lost only three games against Artem Derepasko, a Russian qualifier, on Court Two, and Rusedski held the Centre Court crowd in suspense for more than two and a half hours before defeating Andrei Pavel, of Romania, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2.
Pavel matched Rusedski almost serve-for-serve and will-for-will in a contest of attrition only relieved by tie-breaks until the British No 2 was able to cut loose in the fourth set. By then, Pavel was feeling the effect of his labours and had called the trainer to massage his lower back.
Rusedski secured the first set tie-break, 7-2, but lost the second shoot-out, Pavel hitting a winning return for 7-5. For much of the third set it seemed that the Romanian's confidence was the greater, but Rusedski managed to save a set point and he rattled through the tie-break, 7-1.
Having gained the advantage, Rusedski looked sharper and more determined as he powered his way to a second-round meeting with Byron Black of Zimbabwe. Black lost only two games in defeating Alberto Martin of Spain.
Rusedski said he was pleased overall, having gone into the match against Pavel expecting a difficult time. "The only thing I was disappointed in was my return of serve, which will be well practised tomorrow," he said.
Henman survived a few minor irritations on his way to victory. Guy Swindells, of Radio Wimbledon, was talking his way towards the realm of Ken ("They think it's all over") Wolstenholme until a telling glance from Henman reduced the commentator to a whisper on Court Two.
The British No 1 was leading Derepasko, ranked No 272 in the world, by two sets and 3-1 when he was distracted by Swindells' excited voice. "I think he was just telling everyone that I'd got it in the bag, it was over," Henman said. "We were still midway through the third set. "I think he got the message from the fans on that side. I had to make sure that I did finish the job to prove him right."
Henman did not tarry in completing his victory, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, after 78 minutes. To be fair to Swindells, it had not been the type of contest to stir the fans into a cacophony that would have drowned his broadcast to all ears except those of his radio audience.
As in many a first-round match, Henman, the player expected to win, was pleased to have accomplished the task with sufficient exercise, but not enough to tax him. His serve was no more than efficient – Derepasko broke to win his only game in the opening set – and it was comforting for British nerves that the Russian's second serve was his weakest link.
Almost having to coaxing the ball to plop over the net on his second deliveries, which averaged 82mph and peaked at 91mph, Derepasko was in peril every time he missed a first serve. His average speed on those was 106mph.
Imagine the astonishment when the IBM speed gun flashed 149mph on the screen – a figure equalling Rusedski's record. Derepasko's big hit scored a point, but the speed was invalidated because of interference on the radar.
Derepasko held serve for the first time in the opening game of the second set, only for Henman to win 11 of the concluding 12. The Russian double-faulted on the last point of the second set, and Henman ended the match with the flourish of an ace.
"Playing someone that I didn't know a great deal about, I had to go out there and sort of try and feel my way into the match," Henman said.
While it was delightful to see the sun shining so intensely, its dazzle did not help Henman settle into the tournament. "That was a factor," he said.
"At twenty past one and half past one, it's a difficult time for time for me if the sun's out. I have to make a few adjustments to avoid looking straight into the sun from the end where I want to put my ball-toss.
"I struggled with that a couple of times in the game where I lost my serve. Following the serve in, I had a few spots in my eyes. It's difficult to volley if you can't see it." Henman, the sixth seed, said he did not anticipate being scheduled to play on Court Two, "having played 26 or 27 matches on Court One or Centre Court".
Not that he found his workplace a problem: "Court Two is where I won my first ever match at Wimbledon, in '95. I've got good memories on that court. It's been a while since I played there. I enjoyed it out there – having said that, I look forward to getting back on Court One or Centre Court."
In the second round tomorrow, Henman will play a British compatriot, the left-handed Martin Lee, of Sussex, who put his wild card entry to good use yesterday by defeating Gianluca Pozzi, a 36-year-old Italian ranked 74 in the world, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
This is the third time that Lee has advanced beyond the opening round in the five years he has been granted a wild card, but he has yet to reach round three. He made his Davis Cup debut against Portugal in Birmingham in April, when Britain's captain, Roger Taylor, a fellow left-hander, said Lee had more natural ability than he had ever had but needed more self-belief.
Whether yesterday's success against Pozzi will embolden Lee enough to test Henman remains to be seen.
Henman, competing at Wimbledon for the first time without his former coach David Felgate, was asked if he analysed his performances himself, or in consultation with someone else.
"I suppose I would voice my opinions probably with Keiron [Vorster, his trainer]," he replied. "He sits there and nods," he added, smiling. "I think it's good sometimes just to talk it through with Jeremy [Bates] or someone. But I think I'm handling it pretty well so far."
Two of the men's seeds departed, Jan-Michael Gambill (No 12) losing to his American compatriot Chris Woodruff in five sets and the Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty (No 22) beaten in four sets by the Dutchman Raemon Sluiter.Reuse content