Rain plays games with Henman's hopes

British No 1 and unseeded Brazilian back on court today after home favourite dodges downpours to take first set in quarter-final

John Roberts
Tuesday 19 November 2013 03:37
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Tim Henman has been afflicted by Ivanisevic syndrome – out of the locker-room, into the rain – early this time. The niftiest footwork seen during the men's singles quarter-finals yesterday came from the groundstaff as they tugged on the tarpaulins, dragging the Championships towards turmoil.

We can only surmise what thoughts went through Henman's mind as he watched the steady downpour. Last year, his semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic stretched over three days and ended agonisingly in a five-set defeat.

Henman left Centre Court last night having secured the opening set against Andre Sa, 6-3, but only after raising the level of his game to a passable imitation of a fourth seed in the concluding moments of the 41 minutes played.

The British No 1 and his Brazilian opponent had spent the afternoon wondering if they would be able to start the match at all. When they did, they were only able to trade shots for seven minutes before returning indoors.

Although the sun was shining when Henman and Sa, ranked No 90 in the world, arrived on court at 6.10pm, dark clouds moved across as they knocked up. Henman, having won the toss, decided to put his opponent's serve to the test in the opening game. The first two points suggested Henman had made a wise psychological move. Sa, failing to find the target with his first serve, found himself 0-30 down, Henman passing him with a forehand drive and then hitting a return that the Brazilian dumped into the net with his forehand.

Far from being unnerved, however, the 25-year-old Brazilian steadied himself and won the next four points, finishing the game with a service winner. Henman won the first two points of his opening serve game, only to be pegged back to 30-30. Sa then applied the pressure with a forehand return, and Henman netted a backhand: 30-40, and already British knuckles were turning white.

Henman's serve on the break point was good enough to cause Sa to hit a backhand return into the net. A service winner took Henman to advantage, and although he missed his first serve on game point, his second delivery kicked in, enabling him to follow up with a winning forehand volley. Down came the rain, on went the covers.

Play resumed almost an hour later. Henman wasted little time in letting Sa know that he was supposed to be the authority on grass. Although the Brazilian managed to take his service game to deuce, Henman broke to lead, 2-1, his opponent netting a backhand.

Sa had an opportunity to break straight back, but spurned three break points in the next game to allow Henman to move 3-1 ahead. Sa served out the next game to love, but Henman held on to his single-break advantage until Sa served to save the set at 5-3. At 15-40, the Brazilian ran around his backhand to hit a forehand, but put the ball in the net.

While Henman and Sa were back in the locker-room after the first rain delay, it was announced that the quarter-final between Lleyton Hewitt, the world No 1, and Sjeng Schalken had been postponed until today. Henman or Sa will play the winner in the semi-finals.

Ominously, the lower half of the draw is in limbo. Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, and David Nalbandian, of Argentina, were not scheduled to play their quarter-final yesterday, and Xavier Malisse, who beat Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, on Tuesday, also had a day off, wondering if he would be playing Richard Krajicek or Mark Philippoussis in the last eight. Krajicek prevailed in the night watch.

With the weather forecast better for today, play is due to start at noon on Centre Court, Court One and Court Two, and at 11am on other courts.

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