Re: Henman & Sampras, England vs USA.
Pacific Life Open
Henman falls to the giant and drops outside top 50
Eleanor Preston in Indian Wells
Tuesday March 14, 2006
Tim Henman has battled through his career against bigger, stronger players but nowadays they all seem to be younger than him too. His 6-4, 6-4 defeat last night in the second round to the 20-year-old Tomas Berdych in the Pacific Life Open, which ensured his ranking will fall outside the top 50 for the first time in a decade, was a case in point.
Berdych is 6ft 5in and has the sort of muscular game that would probably have given even a 21-year-old Henman trouble, and it has got the Czech to No25 in the world and already secured him a Masters Series title. A 31-year-old Henman with a dodgy back and little to draw confidence from over the past 18 months had little chance.
That said, he did well to keep the giant Berdych at bay for the first 45 minutes of an entertaining and competitive first set and even had 0-40 on the Czech's serve early on as Berdych tried to work out what to do about a harrying Henman, who was doing his utmost to impose himself on the match. Eventually Berdych realised that welting his ground strokes into places where his opponent could not reach them was a smart tactic; from then on the contest was effectively over.
Henman held on until 4-4 in the first set before Berdych found the mark on his returns. A break of serve was followed, after 50 minutes, by the first set. The British No2 dropped his service again at the start of the second set and, though he fought valiantly, there was little he could do to stop the inevitable. After nearly 1½ hours, British interest in the tournament was over.
Pete Sampras, who is one of the many retired millionaires who owns property in the area, was in the stands to soak up the sunshine after days of freezing temperatures in the usually sun-kissed Coachella Valley. The former world No1 and multi-grand slam winner smiled a lot - happy, perhaps, not to be the one out there on court trying to hold back time and the tide of talent relentlessly washing over the men's Tour.
When Sampras first encountered Henman, the Briton was the sprightly young player bristling with potential. Now he is the veteran, wearily fighting a perpetual battle against both the disintegration of his ageing, aching body and the rise of big, bruising youngsters such as Berdych.
Even though Henman's back problems appear to have abated for now, his world ranking is continually going down rather than up. He must be tempted to follow Sampras's example and head into comfortable and moneyed retirement, where the only young people he will have to worry about are his own children.
Henman has quarter-final points to defend in his next event, the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami, and unless he reaches the last eight or better, his ranking will slip further.