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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Henman's demons return
Tim Henman
Henman failed to capitalise on leads in two sets

When the sixth seed exits a Grand Slam tournament at the second-round stage, it is normally the cause of at least a ripple of excitement.

In the case of Tim Henman, it was no more of a surprise than the opening-round demise of Pete Sampras.

But as Sampras comes to terms with defeat, he can at least console himself with the memory of past glories.

And 13 other Grand Slam crowns is some consolation.

Xavier Malisse
Malisse had won only twice before arriving in Paris

In Henman's case, he has only the rather plaintive cry that he "can play on clay - no question".

It is certainly difficult to argue with the British number one's assertion.

A semi-final showing in Monte Carlo proved that he had finally found a way to win consistently on the "terre battue".

But Henman is yet to persuade his doubters that he has eliminated the demons that have hampered his progress over the years.

It was not only his defeat to Xavier Malisse which caused little suprise, it was the manner of it.

Failed tactics

From the opening skirmishes of his battle with the talented Belgian, Henman continually stayed at the back of the court, steadfastly refusing the temptation to approach the net.

True, Malisse likes a target, but Henman's success on the clay this season has been built on careful approach play and ruthlessness around the net.

When he did start to attack, or "slice and dice" as his tactics have been dubbed, he soon found himself a break up in both the third and fourth sets.

On each occasion, Malisse began to lose patience only for Henman to concede the advantage by engaging the Belgian in long rallies thereby renewing his opponent's confidence.

Andre Agassi
Agassi gets on top and attacks relentlessly

Compare Henman and Andre Agassi's approaches to the closing out of a match, and the Briton's problems become clear.

Once Agassi has got the measure of his opponent, he continues to attack, and in his own somewhat threatening words, "executes" his shots with devastating accuracy.

Such is his tunnel vision that it matters little what his opponent can throw at him so long as his own game remains intact, which it invariably does.

His British counterpart is rarely able to achieve sustained momentum in a match, which is why watching Henman is not unlike watching Big Brother - too painful to watch, too exciting to miss.

Like Sampras, Henman will never win the French Open. Indeed he is very unlikely ever to win a title on clay.

But having reached the world's top five on the back of some outstanding displays on the red stuff, he should have had little problem with an opponent who had won only three matches coming into the tournament.

Even at one set all and a break to the good, Henman never looked in complete control during his insipid display against Malisse.

The match did little to suggest Henman will end the 25-year-old wait for a British champion at Wimbledon.

And with the years fast catching up on Henman, there are only so many more times he can pledge that he will keep improving and come better next year.

One of these days Henman, like Sampras, will find out that the body is not as willing as it used to be.

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30 May 02 | French Open
Links to more French Open stories are at the foot of the page.


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