Tennis: Australian Open Henman heads home after `worst performance ever'

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Tim Henman called it his "worst performance ever" and there were few arguing with him after watching the five-set loss to France's Jerome Golmard in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday.

Henman, who beat the world No 2, Pat Rafter, in Sydney last week, succumbed to the French qualifier - ranked outside the top 100 - despite his opponent having to call for the trainer to have blisters on both of his feet burst. The defeat ruled out the prospect of an all-British quarter-final match with Greg Rusedski, who comfortably progressed to the second round with a straight-sets victory over the American David Witt.

"For someone of my ability, there is no way I can let that happen," admitted Henman, after making his exit 3-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 9-11. "To come out and put in a performance like that just isn't acceptable. If I am going to be any good at this game there there's no way I can play like that."

Henman, so impressive in defeating Rafter, showed the other side of his tennis character that is frustrating his efforts to emerge as truly world- class. "I can't explain it," he said. "I have to go away and regroup."

After an awful start, Henman somehow managed to take the match - that lasted four hours 19 minutes - into a deciding set against a player he had beaten in straight sets at Wimbledon last year. Serving second, he was always at a disadvantage but managed to stave off two match points in the 14th game before his rhythm was halted when the trainer came on just before he served to save the match six games later.

Golmard, whose ranking is partly explained by a succession of injuries, fired back two indifferent serves and Henman was facing another two match points against him. One was saved, but defeat came when he sent a volley drifting too long.

"There was obviously a break, but I didn't lose my concentration," claimed Henman. "I felt like I had a pretty good rhythm but in that last game he hit a couple of good shots."

Henman would have had a clearer opening to Rusedski after the No 13 seed, Goran Ivanisevic, his expected second-round opponent, lost to the Dutchman Jan Siemerink.

Rusedski, the No 5 seed, needed to save two set points in his opening set, but encountered few other problems as he sent down 27 aces against Witt, ranked 208, to win 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. Rusedski's next opponent will be another American, Jonathan Stark, against whom he had to come back from two sets down to beat 11-9 in the final set at Wimbledon last year.

Stark came through against Carlos Costa when the Spaniard was forced to retire because of a muscle problem. The return match on Thursday will have an added edge with Stark now being guided by Brian Teacher, the coach Rusedski dropped soon after he reached the US Open final last year.

Austria's Thomas Muster was another of the men's seeds to fall as he lost in straight sets to Sweden's Jan Apell while Andre Agassi beat the Italian Marzio Martelli in four.

Jeff Tarango made a highly volatile exit as he shouted disagreements with the English umpire, Mike Morrissey, in his match against Australia's Rafter. The American, who was banned from Wimbledon for a year after an outburst in 1995, held up two fingers and shouted at the umpire: "That's two [line calls] you owe me, and you know it." He eventually lost 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5.

Martina Hingis, breezed through her first-round match for the loss of just three games against Wiltrud Probst, but there was no such joy for Helena Sukova, who announced her retirement after losing to Anne Miller 4-6, 7-5, 6-0.