- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

Less than 24 hours after using his racket to display his awesome power in a thrilling semifinal win over Andre Agassi, the excitable Fernando Gonzalez abused the tool of his trade yesterday.

He threw it around, banged it against the ground and even brought it to his face with both hands and spat on it.

The cause of his frustration was the unassuming Tim Henman. The Brit ran Gonzalez ragged and cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 win in the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic before a sellout crowd of 7,500 at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park. Henman is just the second foreign champion of the tournament in the last nine years.

Henman, a 10th seed, took the fourth-seeded Gonzalez out of his game with a slow, methodical pace. It was the 10th ATP Tour title of his career.

“One of my objectives was to be mentally strong,” said Henman, Great Britain’s top player. “I knew that he was going to hit some amazing shots and some spectacular winners, and I knew that he was going to make some unforced errors. I wanted to make him work as hard as he could for every point.”

Henman controlled the pace from the start, breaking Gonzalez twice en route to a 4-0 lead in the first set. The Brit neutralized Gonzalez’s notoriously strong first serves and forehands by sending them back over the net with little juice. The goal was to slow the usually fast action Gonzalez thrives on.

“He surprised me a lot,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was visibly tired from his match with Agassi late Saturday night but appeared to get a break when the weather stalled action for almost an hour and a half. The dark clouds waited only six minutes into the match to let out a downpour that, mixed with harsh winds, created a nasty start to the afternoon.

Gonzalez used the extra time to relax in the player’s lounge and watch a replay of his win over his boyhood idol Agassi.

However, the Gonzalez who returned to the court once play resumed was nowhere near the TV version.

“I felt slow,” said Gonzalez, who still had a vocal contingent of flag-waving fans from Chile. “I didn’t play my best tennis.”

Henman, on the other hand, said he couldn’t recall the last time he executed a game plan so well. He had beaten Gonzalez only once in three previous meetings and attributed the two losses to his inability to dictate the flow of the match.

However, those defeats took place last year and, for Henman, a lot has taken place since. He had right shoulder surgery Nov. 14, 2002, and slowly worked his way back to top form, culminating with yesterday’s title.

“When you look at the context of the last 12 months, it’s been a difficult time, and now I feel like I’ve put that behind me,” he said. “When I’m playing my best, I’m out there having fun, and that was my thought process coming in.”

In fact, Henman said yesterday was the most relaxed he had been all week. That’s understandable considering the grind he went through the last six days.

He didn’t arrive into town until July 27 and then struggled through a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over hometown favorite Paul Goldstein on Tuesday. Henman followed that with wins against eighth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko and third-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan.

Henman proved he was a legitimate threat when he ousted No.2 seed Andy Roddick 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1). That seemed to give him confidence, and he never doubted his abilities against Gonzalez.

“I really believed that I was going to go out and win that match, and it was as simple as that,” Henman said of the final.

After winning the first set, Henman set the tone by breaking Gonzalez in the first game of the second set.

Gonzalez tried to speed up the pace of play on his service games but was forced to wait between points, when Henman used most of the 20 seconds allotted him by walking around in circles behind the baseline. Henman stuck to his plan and took a 4-2 lead when Gonzalez hit a backhand wide for his 25th unforced error.

The Chilean survived three match points in the ninth game to cut the deficit to 5-4, but he couldn’t break Henman’s serve when he needed it the most. The Brit, a serve and volleyer, caught Gonzalez off-guard by not employing his usual tactics more often.

In the end, that was what sealed the championship. Up 40-15, Henman fired his fastest serve — 117 mph — came to net and hit a volley for a winner to clinch the title.

As the finalists met at the net, Gonzalez shook Henman’s hand and then said with a smile, “See you Tuesday.”

The two will meet again in the first round of the next stop on the ATP Tour in Montreal, and Gonzalez is confident the result will be different.

“I’m a little disappointed today because I don’t like to lose, but it was a great week,” said Gonzalez, who turned 23 on Tuesday. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Sargis Sargsian took the doubles title with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win over Chris Haggard and Paul Hanley.

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