Henman dispatches Flach in U.S. Open But no-nonsense play virtually unnoticed

August 31, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Tim Henman, the first Englishman to make it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 23 years, walked onto Court 16 yesterday morning and was greeted by only a few hands clapping.

Henmania has yet to reach the U.S. Open.

But that didn't stop Henman from demonstrating the same no-nonsense style that captured the hearts of the British and helped earn him a silver medal in doubles at the Olympics in Atlanta earlier this month.

The slim right-hander made quick work of second-round opponent Doug Flach, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, to move into the third round.

His opponent tomorrow is No. 12 seed Todd Martin, who beat Andrea Gaudenzi last night, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. It was Martin who ended Henman's glorious run at Wimbledon with a 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory in which there was only one break of serve.

"I've played Todd twice before and we've had close matches," said Henman. "At Wimbledon, he took the big points. Hopefully, this time, I'll be able to put away my chances."

At Wimbledon, Henman was the center of attention. His news conferences were packed after every match. Fans swarmed him. His picture appeared everywhere. Headline writers had a party with his name -- Tim "Hitman" Henman, Manna from Henna, you get the picture.

"It was crazy," he said, who has been on the road playing tennis every week since his Wimbledon loss. "To explain how it was to anyone who wasn't there to see it is very difficult. I had a lot of fun, but it is something of a relief to be away from it."

Here, he has been virtually ignored by all but the British press.

Yester

day, he was, at last, the focus of a group interview in a small, secondary interview room.

"I think it's safe to say it's here at the Open where you really prove your guts as a tennis player, even though Wimbledon is a great time of the year for us at home," he said. "I think the basis of being a professional tennis player internationally is on the hard courts."

And the hard courts suit him, said his coach David Felgate, who watched and cheered his every point on Court 16. Henman is serving well enough that he is comfortable coming to the net behind his serve and equally confident if his opponent dictates and he has to hang out on the baseline and trade ground strokes.

"It's his favorite surface," Felgate said. "Any success he had before Wimbledon was on hard courts. Then after Wimbledon, he went back to the hard courts and continued to play well and build his ranking. I think you can see his inner belief and I think it correlates to the player he is and to the fact that he has earned his way up."

Henman, ranked 99 at the end of 1995, is now No. 39 in the world and followed his Wimbledon success with a silver in doubles at the Olympics.

"It certainly added to his confidence," said Felgate. "Not to be too arrogant, I think Tim believes he is a player who is now able to win."

When Henman, 21, looked at his draw here, he saw it as a revelation. A year ago, he simply was trying to establish himself in the game. He played his way through the qualifying rounds to make the main draw and won a match before departing in Round 2.

"This time, I looked at the draw and realized that I was the one that should be playing in the third round," he said. "And I am. I feel like I belong. I didn't take either of my first two opponents lightly. Especially not Doug. He beat [Andre] Agassi at Wimbledon and anyone who does that has to be a good player. I'm not resting on my laurels. I'm trying to go out and improve every match.

"The only hiccup I had [yesterday] was in the second set, when he broke my serve. I hated that. I'd dearly have liked to have kept the pressure on without a slip."

The most insightful criticism of Henman's game has come from world No. 1 Pete Sampras, who played him in the quarterfinals at Rotterdam and watched him play at Wimbledon .

"What Tim needs is a solid weapon that can hurt you," Sampras said.

The assessment didn't come as a surprise to Henman or his coach, but it inspired them to work harder on Henman's serve.

And yesterday, it was his serve that kept him out of trouble as he blasted six aces at over 120 mph and threw in a handful of service winners.

"I feel comfortable serving bigger now," he said. "I think it certainly makes life a lot easier for you. I think my serve can still get bigger and be a weapon like Pete talked about.

"It's not going to get huge overnight, but in the last 12 or 18 months, it has come on. Playing Sampras showed me how much he can fall back on his serve to put all the pressure on his opponents," Henman said.

"When you're playing a server like that, you know if you throw in one sloppy game the set quite possibly could be over. That's the way I want my opponents to think when they're playing me. I want them to think that every break could be it."

Yesterday, there was little doubt that Flach had the feeling. But at the Open, very few fans were there to see it.

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Singles second round

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