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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Best of British
By Caroline Cheese

Tim Henman

As the heralding of a new era in British tennis, Andy Murray's three-set defeat of Tim Henman was a largely unsatisfactory affair.

The British pair entered the St Jakobshalle in Basel to the strains of a classical version of Queen's rock anthem 'I Want It All'.

But if the organisers intended to intensify the drama surrounding the first clash between Britain's elder statesman and the pretender to his throne, the effect was lost on a half-empty stadium.

Not surprisingly, the 'Battle of Britain' had not quite captured the imagination of the people of Switzerland as much as it had on British shores.

Both Murray and Henman had been keen to play down their encounter as "just another match", and to the crowd, that was exactly what it was.

And not a very good one at that.

In the first set, Henman showed all the form of a man who has won only three matches since going out of Wimbledon in the second round.

The 31-year-old made a shocking 19 errors, and when Murray wrapped up the set 6-2 in 35 minutes, a humiliation looked on the cards.

As impressive as Murray was, the unravelling of Henman's normally fluent game made for uncomfortable viewing, accompanied as it was by sympathetic applause from the Swiss crowd.

Murray served for the match at 5-4, but faltered dramatically as the experienced Henman dug in and somehow levelled the match.

However, Murray's innate competitiveness saw him through in the end, as he lifted his game magnificently in a tense final-set tie-break.

When victory was confirmed, Murray simply clenched his fist and looked to his coach Mark Petchey.

As he was learning his trade in Barcelona, the teenager looked at Henman in awe, and on Tuesday he hailed him as the player "who inspired me to keep playing tennis".

By Wednesday afternoon, he had toppled his idol in their first encounter.

Perhaps in that moment he saw what it meant.

As if reaching the third round on his Wimbledon debut and playing Roger Federer in an ATP final was not enough for a first season on the professional tour, he had only added to his own hype by taking out Henman too.

Regardless, or perhaps because, of how poorly Henman played, it is hard to ignore the significance of the result for both players.

Murray, usually keen to play down the hype, went as far as to describe it as a "pretty big deal" to beat a player whom he has "so much respect for".

It was visible evidence that Murray is Henman's natural successor.

Henman, for so long the lone bearer of the nation's hopes, will be hurt by this defeat, his first to a countryman in seven years.

Hurt not just by defeat itself, but by the fact that he was only able to produce flashes of his best.

With the degenerative back problem that has ruined his season threatening to strike again at any time, he may not be allowed to find the sort of form that would be enough to hold off the fast-rising Murray.

At 31, and with a young family at home, he might not be inclined to try for much longer.

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