There are days when an experienced leading player runs into a talented youngster in top form. It happened to Tim Henman here yesterday, when the British No 1 was edged out of the second round of the Nasdaq Open by Jurgen Melzer, a 22-year-old Austrian left-hander, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6.
Henman, hoping to build on his run to the final in Indian Wells last week, will be disappointed to have been broken when serving for the match at 6-5 in the third set. But he will hold his hand up and acknowledge that the better man won in a swirling wind on the day.
Time will tell if Melzer possesses the spirit that drove his compatriot Thomas Muster to the top. There is no doubt that he has the game to succeed - an amalgam of impressive mobility, aggression and precision, and no fear of making a challenge at the net against a player with Henman's volleying skills.
Henman, the seventh seed, had never played the 64th-ranked Melzer before, but he knew that he was potentially a threat to his current well-being. Melzer underlined that by eliminating the Croatian giant Ivo Karlokov in the first round.
Melzer attacked Henman from the start on No 1 Court here yesterday, breaking in the opening game. Although Henman fought back to 2-2, he was broken again to 4-5, and did well to force a tie-break. The Austrian dominated the shoot-out, winning, 7-3.
Henman levelled the contest in the second set with breaks in the first and seventh games, but was under pressure again in the final set, saving three break points in the fourth game.
Although Henman broke for 6-5 after Melzer had double-faulted to 0-40, the 29-year-old from Oxfordshire was harried into losing his serve to 30 as a place in the third round beckoned. Henman broke on the opening point of the tie-break, but the Austrian prevailed, 7-4. He next plays the 33-year-old American qualifier Todd Martin, who beat Jarkko Nieminen, of Finland, the 29th seed, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Serena Williams certainly looked the part of a Wimbledon champion in her white satin dress here yesterday, and she made short work of her first match since defeating her older sister, Venus, in the women's singles final at the All England Club eight months ago.
However, a 6-1, 6-0 win after 43 minutes against Marta Marrero, a Spanish qualifier, ranked No 83 in the world, could not disguise the reality that this was a gentle exercise ahead of the major challenges Williams faces on her road back to the top.
Making almost as many errors as winning shots, Williams was helped by her opponent's frailty on the big points. Marrero, a 21-year-old from Las Palmas, double-faulted eight times, four of the errors costing her games.
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