Scala, a 25-year-old from Bologna ranked No 210 in the world, seemed just about down and out on the Centre Court at the Foro Italico after Henman had swept through the first set, 6-1, and was a break up in the second set after only 34 minutes.
When Henman had two game points for 2-0, there was even speculation that he would wrap the match up in less than an hour. Instead, Henman's game began to unravel, and his opponent gained confidence, winning, 1-6, 6- 3, 6-4, after an hour and 50 minutes.
No external forces could be blamed for Henman's collapse. The match was played in the cool of the evening after a day of baking heat, and the crowd could not have been more placid, showing little of the venue's notorious partisanship until it seemed that Scala - the last Italian in the singles draw - was really going to win.
Henman, the 14th seed, so efficient with his serving and his groundstrokes early on, gradually lost his timing and accuracy. Even so, he had two opportunities to break in the fourth game of the final set, but compounded earlier errors by double-faulting to lose serve to 4-5.
"I didn't make life too difficult for him after playing some of my best clay court tennis," Henman said. "I became too impatient. I must be prepared to wait and attack the right balls. The only positive thing I take away is that my elbow is fine and I'm fit."
Scala, playing in the main draw of an ATP Tour event for the first time, goes forward for a third-round match against the real hero of yesterday.
Scott Draper could scarcely believe what he had achieved after trading shots with Thomas Muster, the master of clay courts, for nearly three hours in temperatures of more than 100F on the Centre Court.
"I beat a player who's probably recognised as one of the best players in the world of all time," the 22-year-old Australian said after his 7- 6, 5-7, 7-5 victory. "The scary part is that I probably beat him physically and mentally."
The organisers were nonplussed by a chain of results that has seen them lose the top three seeds in the opening two rounds, Muster, the No 3, having fallen in the second round 24 hours after the first-round eliminations of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. Richard Krajicek, the fifth seed, was another second-round victim, losing to Germany's Marc Goellner, 7-6, 7-6.
Results, Digest, page 29