Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Henman makes it look difficult at Wimbledon

AP Sports Writer

        WIMBLEDON, England — Tim Henman and his legion of British fans didn't think it would be this nerve-racking.

        He was supposed to sail through the early rounds in his latest attempt to become the first homegrown men's champion since 1936. But if he keeps struggling this way against lower-ranked opponents, what will happen when he faces a top player — such as No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt?

        Henman overcame an upset stomach, a 1-hour, 50-minute rain suspension and breaks of serve in the fourth and fifth sets Monday to advance to the quarterfinals with a five-set victory over 45th-ranked Michel Kratochvil.

        Henman needed help from smelling salts, his opponent's 17 double faults and a boisterous crowd to scrape through 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

        When Kratochvil missed a forehand return to end the 4:13 match, Henman raised his arms and gazed skyward — more in relief than celebration.

        “I don't know who kept me alive but the crowd can take a lot of credit,” Henman said. “Because at two sets to one and 2-1 down in the fourth, I was out of there. I can't quite figure out how I won. I'm just so happy to still be alive.”

        Henman, who reached the semifinals in three of the past four years, came in as the pre-tournament betting favorite. He carries immense national expectations in his quest to give Britain its first men's winner since Fred Perry 66 years ago.

        Another British player, Canadian-born Greg Rusedski, is also still in contention but in danger of elimination. He and Belgium's Xavier Malisse were even at two sets apiece in a match suspended because of darkness and to resume Tuesday.

        Top-seeded Venus Williams, who has spent only 3:53 on court in her first four matches, was scheduled up first Tuesday on Centre Court to face Elena Likhovtseva in a quarterfinal. Venus and sister Serena are both two wins from meeting in their third Grand Slam final in 10 months.

        No. 4 Monica Seles was paired against No. 6 Justine Henin, last year's losing finalist. No. 3 Jennifer Capriati was to resume her fourth-round match against Eleni Daniilidou after splitting the first two sets Monday.

        Richard Krajicek, the 1996 winner and only former men's champion left in the draw, faced Mark Philippoussis in a fourth-round match put off a day.

        Henman had a soft draw, with two qualifiers in the first two rounds. But he looked vulnerable at times in his second-round four-set win over Scott Draper and benefited from a dubious overrule in the third round against Wayne Ferreira, also in four sets.

        On Monday, Henman went down a break in the fourth and fifth sets and was trying to fight off what he believed was a case of food poisoning.

        At the end of the third set, Henman called for ATP trainer Bill Norris, who gave him smelling salts that appeared to revive him.

        “I'm not quite sure why he gave me that,” Henman said. “I think it was to try and kick-start me into action. I wouldn't recommend it — they don't smell great.”

        Norris came out twice more for Henman during changeovers in the fourth set. He also came out twice for Kratochvil after the Swiss player slipped on the court and scraped his right knee.

        “At two sets to one and 2-1 down in the fourth, I was out of there,” Henman said. “But somehow the good old crowd got me going again. I just kept fighting for every single point. It's amazing what you can do. I couldn't accept going out on those sort of terms, really.”

        “I take a lot of confidence from the way that I fought out there,” he said. “I had to fight for every point. That's what I'll take away from this one.”

        He'll need plenty of rest before Wednesday's quarterfinal against 90th-ranked Brazilian Andre Sa — who, along with Argentina's David Nalbandian and Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, have put three South Americans in the quarters for the first time in the Open era.

        After that, Henman most likely would face Hewitt, the U.S. Open champion who hasn't dropped a set so far and is the strong title favorite now.

        First, Henman must face Sjeng Schalken, a strong grass-court player who has reached the quarters for the first time in 29 Grand Slams.

        “I think I'm like wine,” the 25-year-old Dutchman said. “I get better with age.”


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