Tennis: Henman's points failure

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ONE STATISTIC told the story of Tim Henman's surprise defeat against the unseeded Marc Rosset in the third round of the Australian Open here yesterday.

It did not matter that the Swiss player made nearly twice as many unforced errors. Nor that Henman won 62 per cent of his second serves against his opponent's 42 per cent.

Nor that their percentage of first serves in was virtually the same. Nor that Rosset served nine double faults to Henman's three. Nor even that he won only four more points over the course of the match.

What mattered was what happened on the big points. When it came to the crunch, Henman, the No 6 seed, lost a first-set tie-break from 5-2 ahead and converted only three out of 13 break points, whereas his opponent took five of the seven that came his way.

The big-hitting Rosset, despite shoulder and stomach trouble, won 7- 6, 6-3, 7-5 to book his place in the last 16 - and leave Henman still to experience the second week of the event. In four attempts the 24-year-old Briton has never gone beyond round three. However, he chose not to probe too closely into the reasons why.

On a day when Pat Rafter, Richard Krajicek, Jana Novotna and Conchita Martinez - a double US Open champion and three Wimbledon champions - were also beaten and the day after his fellow Briton, Greg Rusedski, also went out, Henman said: "I've got no complaints.

"It's a good surface, my preparation was perfect and I wouldn't say I played particularly badly. I have to give him credit. He hit a lot of good shots at exactly the right time. I'm not looking into it too deeply. I lost the match, simple as that."

Rosset, though, did examine what transpired - and had criticisms of Henman's tactics.

"I took more risks than him and I think he was maybe pushing the ball too much. I thought he would hit harder and as he didn't I was pretty confident," he said. "When it's windy you have to play with a lot of spin, but I don't think he can do that."

At 6ft 7in tall, Rosset, a dishevelled giant, has always been an awkward opponent and although his current ranking is 31st in the world, he was good enough to reach ninth in 1995 and the French Open semi-finals the following year.

He is also lucky to be alive. Last September he and his coach were booked to fly to Geneva from New York but decided to stay in America to practise. The Swiss Air jumbo crashed in Nova Scotia, killing more than 200 people.

Henman was bemused by his opponent's fluctuating performance. "At one stage in the third set it looked like his shoulder is going to drop off, but he's still serving at 125-128mph most of the time," Henman said.

"And he went from looking like he was barely capable of moving to two points later running like a gazelle. It was just difficult to know what to expect.

"He's always in the trainers' room getting work on his shoulder and his arms, so there obviously is something wrong, but you just wonder how bad it is.

"I wouldn't think his serve dropped much below 125mph and he played for two-and-a-half hours."

Henman lost serve in the opening game of the match just as he did in his five-set second round struggle against the Australian Sandon Stolle. He then missed eight break points before levelling for 4-4.

Rosset recovered from 5-2 down in the tie-break to win it 7-5, then twice broke Henman in the second set after being broken himself first.

The outcome was still in doubt when Henman led 4-1 in the third set and Rosset, already under treatment for his shoulder, asked for a trainer because of stomach pains.

But even while he was waiting he broke back, then did it again for 6- 5. He even won one rally with a broken string.