Paris Masters Tennis
(4th - 7th November 2004)
Can Tim Henman successfully defend his Masters trophy?
Tim Henman moves into the familiar subterranean territory of Paris’ Stade de Omnisport next to the River Seine at Bercy as the race for a place in the calendar ending Masters Cup reaches its’ final straight.
A year ago Henman left the huge cavernous arena as champion after finally winning his first ever Masters Series title. However that victory brought down the curtain on his campaign but 12 months on he is hoping the event only acts as a final springboard towards a place amongst the eight elite players of the world in Houston.
Though Henman cannot be content with his performances over the last two weeks in Madrid and Basle, he knows a huge thank-you is in order for former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson who not only denied Andre Agassi his 60th career title in Sunday’s Stockholm final but prevented the 34 year-old Las Vegan from gathering a further 12 points in his concerted bid to overtake Henman.
“It’s difficult trying not to get caught up in it all,” said Henman who has seen his lead over Agassi whittled away over the last fortnight. “Obviously I would have liked to have done better in the last couple of events and it would have been nice to have already qualified for Houston.
With one week remaining Henman stands in seventh place in the race with 458 points, 38 more than Agassi. Curiously the pair could meet in the Bercy quarter-final but by then the Englishman would have secured his place by overtaking current fifth placed Guillermo Coria who has opted against playing the Parisian event believing his rehabilitation is still a couple of weeks short after undergoing shoulder surgery in August.
However if Coria still merits a place at Houston’s Westside Tennis Club then he has repeatedly stressed he will be ready to play the event which begins on November. Henman meanwhile is taking nothing for granted and though awarded a first round bye at Bercy, by virtue of his third seeding; he must then beat either Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan or the tricky Argentine Mariano Zabaleta.
Henman holds a 5-1 advantage over Srichaphan, their most recent encounter coming in Washington DC last year with the British no.1 winning in straight sets. Zabaleta, a late inclusion in the main draw after the withdrawal of forceful young Swede Joachim Johansson, stands at 4-4 with Henman with two of those matches coming this year; a win for the Argentine on the clay of Rome with fortunes being reversed three months later on Toronto’s cement.
The third round appears even more problematical with either Mikail Youzhny, the Russian winner of last week’s St. Petersburg tournament or the similarly in form Czech, Jiri Novak lying in wait. Few should need reminding that en route to winning the Basle title, Novak beat Henman in the quarter-finals and also dumped him out of the Olympic Games first round.
“It’s always a bit frantic at this time of the year with so much on the line and defending titles is never easy, especially a Masters Series event,” said Henman “There are so many good players in the draw that if you perform slightly below your best there’s a good chance you’ll be punished.
“My intention is to take it a match at a time – I know it’s a cliché but that’s the way I perform best. I have to concentrate on my own game and take each match as it comes. I need to focus my attention on playing as well as possible against either Mariano or Paradorn – that’s as far as I’m looking at the moment.”