Pressure’s off for Henman

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For Tim Henman, a load has been lifted.

Sort of.

The 32-year-old Henman, who lost in the second round at Wimbledon last month, still is considered one of the best players to never win a Grand Slam. But the British player is eager to play in a string of U.S. tournaments — starting with the Legg Mason Classic — because it will allow him to concentrate less on media criticism and more on improving his 5-9 record this season.

“I notice there is a difference when I come over to these American tournaments after Wimbledon,” said Henman, who will take on American John Isner at FitzGerald Tennis Center in the District today. “I can go about my business obviously with less scrutiny. But at the end of the day it’s something I’ve always dealt with in my career. It’s not something I have been able to control. When you can’t control it, there’s really not much of a point in worrying about it.”

Henman, who has failed to advance past the third round of any Grand Slam since 2004, is ranked 71st in the world. Rather than focus on his shortcomings, Henman instead wants to concentrate on coming back from various injuries, most notably a bone spur in his right knee that forced him to withdraw from the Australian Open in February. He revealed his injury was linked with osteochondritis, a bone disease doctors determined he had during his childhood.

“I just focus on the short-term really,” Henman said. “That’s important with some of the injuries that I had in how unpredictable things can be. You just want to take advantage and enjoy the opportunities. If there comes a stage where I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, then I wouldn’t do it. But I love what I do. It’s been my hobby more than my job.”

Despite his age, his past injuries and the fact he and his wife are expecting their third child next month, Henman has no plans to retire from tennis any time soon. While he acknowledged injuries could lead to further limitations in his play, he has his sights set on that elusive first Slam.

Aside from the Legg Mason, Henman plans to play in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati and the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven, Conn., in preparation for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., at the end of August. Henman’s best finish there came three years ago, when he lost in straight sets in a semifinal match against Roger Federer.

“The bottom line is I’m a professional player when I step out onto the court to compete,” said Henman, who won the Legg Mason Classic singles title in 2003 and last year advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov in straight sets. “I’m going to give 100 percent wherever I am. This is a tournament I’ve enjoyed playing over the years. Having won it in the past, I want to have a good run here again.”

Notes Andy Murray — who was the runner-up in last year’s Legg Mason and is ranked 14th in the world — couldn’t fully recover from a right wrist injury suffered in May and pulled out of the tournament to continue his rehab. …

Fernando Gonzalez, the Australian Open runner-up, also withdrew from the tournament because of a sore back. Isner, the 2007 NCAA singles runner-up from Georgia, received a wild-card berth in place of Gonzalez. …

Wesley Whitehouse, George Bastl and Wayne Odesnik advanced in their qualifying round and Tomas Zib won in his singles draw before rain halted the other three matches yesterday afternoon. Santiago Giraldo and Thomas Johansson will continue their match, which Johansson was leading 6-5 in the first set, today. Evgeny Korolev and Ricardo Mello also will play today. …

The final qualifying round match between Andre Sa and Somdev Devvarman, this year’s NCAA singles champion from Virginia, also was postponed and will be played today. The pairings won’t be determined until all the qualifying rounds are completed.

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