Safin cuts short Henman's year

Tim Henman acknowledged the dilemma of his life in tennis. "I've never hidden behind the fact that I'll be judged on whether I win Wimbledon or not," he said. "I'm sure if I don't win Wimbledon, then that's what will stick in a lot of people's minds."

Tim Henman acknowledged the dilemma of his life in tennis. "I've never hidden behind the fact that I'll be judged on whether I win Wimbledon or not," he said. "I'm sure if I don't win Wimbledon, then that's what will stick in a lot of people's minds."

The British No 1 was reflecting on the most successful season of his career, which took him to his highest year-end ranking of No 6 in the world before being brought to a close by the groundstrokes of Marat Safin, of Russia, 6-2 7-6, in the concluding round-robin match of the Masters Cup here on Friday night.

Lleyton Hewitt caused consternation among the locals yesterday by dispatching the American Andy Roddick in the semi-finals, 6-3 6-2, after only 58 minutes If the Australian wins today's final he will supplant Roddick as the world No 2. Roddick, the man of 1,000 aces, was befuddled by Hewitt's speed and movement and solid serving, and when the American tried his new dimension of net play, matters became worse for him.

Safin, the world No 4, was due to play Roger Federer, the world No 1, in the second semi-final. It was the first time since 1990 that the the top four seeds had advanced to the semi-finals of the event.

The 30-year-old Henman had done his best to stay in touch, although he admitted his form had dipped since the US Open. The only Masters Cup qualifier not to have won a title all year, and with wins against only two top-10 players - Federer in Rotterdam and Roddick in Indian Wells - Henman had drawn admiration by battling to the last four at the French Open, on clay, and the US Open, on concrete.

At Wimbledon, however, where he had been a semi-finalist four times, Henman was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Mario Ancic, of Croatia. That, as Henman said, is what sticks in people's minds. "Do I think that right? Do I think that's fair? Probably not, but that's out of my control," he said. "It doesn't disappoint me. It doesn't frustrate me. That's fact, isn't it?"

Henman's only win in his three round-robin matches at the damp Westside Tennis Club here was against Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, 6-2 6-2. Coria, who beat Henman in the French semi-finals, was making a comeback after four months out following shoulder surgery, and his serve was tentative. The only match in which Henman's play approached the form he displayed at the US Open was against Roddick, who beat him, 7-5 7-6, in his opening round-robin contest.

He did not give the impres-sion that he believed he could beat Safin on current form. Henman created only two break points, with the Russian serving at 5-2 in the first set, and appeared to have forgotten them by the time he arrived in the interview room. Perhaps double-faulting to lose the previous game formed a clearer memory.

Safin said the second set was made to seem closer because he lost his concentration before going on to win the tie-break, 7-2.

Henman will now take a break and prepare for the arrival of his second child. His wife, Lucy, is due to give birth in three weeks. "I'll probably be changing some nappies." A puzzled American wanted to know what nappies are. "Diapers," the linguistic Henman told him.

Looking ahead to next season, when he will again be coached by Paul Annacone, on a part-time basis, Henman said he needed to improve his discipline. "I come unstuck when I'm playing well because my discipline goes down," he said. "I've got to be more disciplined on the practice court so it becomes a habit on the match court and I don't play three or four sloppy points in a row."

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