The Federer express runs over Henman

World No 1 just too strong, too quick and too good for Britain's outclassed No 1

It was wonderful while it lasted, dodgy back and all, but Tim Henman's challenge at the US Open here ended in defeat by Roger Federer in the semi-finals, 6-3 6-4 6-4, after an hour and 46 minutes.

The Swiss world No 1 will today try to add the title in New York to those he won at Wimbledon and in Melbourne to become the first man to win three of the four Grand Slam championships in a season since Mats Wilander, of Sweden, in 1988. Well though Federer is playing, he is likely to be given a stern test by the fourth seed, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 champion, who has not dropped a set and beat Joachim Johansson of Sweden, in yesterday's first semi-final, 6-4 7-5 6-3.

Henman, though thrilling the 22,000 crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium with some splendid examples of the dying art of serve and volley, lacked the consistency with his serving to keep Federer at bay long enough to build a lead. Henman was in philosophical mood afterwards. "I think he showed why he is No 1, " he said. "He was just too good on the day. He's had an unbelievable year and I think tomorrow it will get better. He was different class. He is so complete. He is setting the standard for people now." Asked the condition of his lower back problem Henman said: "Much better. He [Federer] had a lot more to do with my problems."

There were moments in the opening set when Henman got by without a second serve - he held to love for 2-2 without making a first serve - but Federer rarely lost his look of confidence.

One time he did was when Henman struck back immediately after being broken for 2-4, Federer driving to a corner of the court at 15-40. Henman responded by winning the opening three points of the next game with an impressive array of shots. Federer saved the first break point with a deep backhand volley - and then double-faulted, his second serve taking a cruel deflection off the net cord. Unfortunately for Henman's British supporters, and the thousands of Americans who had warmed to his attacking style, Federer restored his lead by breaking for 5-3 with a sizzling forehand cross-court pass. Federer then served out the set after 29 minutes.

The most spectacular game of the match came with Henman receiving at 2-1 in the second set. He took Federer to deuce three times before the Swiss held with an ace. A sense that Henman's tournament was coming to a close intensified after he double-faulted to 3-4.

Confirmation came when Federer broke in the opening game of the third set, after which Henman's winning shots were rarer. He was broken a second time, for 1-4, but managed to delay Federer momentarily by breaking as the maestro served for the match at 5-2 and had his first match point. Two games later, however, Federer was on his way to the meeting with Hewitt. The Australian was too experienced and accomplished for Johansson. Hewitt worked patiently, absorbing his opponent's big serve, anticipating the aggressive forehand and using his footwork to stay out of trouble.

Hewitt put pressure on Johansson's serve in the second game, the Swede having to save a break point at 30-40 after hitting a forehand long. Johansson rescued himself with a service winner. Hewitt made errors from 40-0 in the fifth game, and, at deuce, Johansson drove a forehand down the line to create an opportunity to take the lead. This time Hewitt's serve came to the rescue. Johansson was taken to deuce in the sixth game, but neither player prospered until the Swede served to stay in the set at 4-5. Hewitt took the opening three points of the game by virtue of the sharpness of his returns. The Australian netted a backhand on the first set-point. Johansson hit a smash wide on the second.

The second set went with serve until Johansson, serving at 5-6 to try and force a tie-break, was unsettled by a Hewitt volley, at 15-15, and was unable to make a steady response, missing a forehand at 15-40. Hewitt, fairly restrained until that point, let out a roar of "C'mon!" and pumped an arm. His sister, Jaslyn, who is Johansson's girlfriend, contrived an air of circumspection in a neutral guest box.

The third set followed a similar pattern, Hewitt winning the final eight points. He broke to love for 5-3, and served out to love after an hour and 59 minutes. After letting out another yell, Hewitt shook hands with his friend Johansson, whose 17 aces were not enough to turn the contest, and then left the court to be greeted by his fiancée, Kim Clijsters, whose injured wrist prevented her from entering the women's singles.

"It was definitely a bit awkward, with my parents in one box and Jaslyn in another," Hewitt said. "I just put a professional cap on and went out there and played."

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