Roger Federer majored in public relations at a local primary school's assembly here yesterday morning without realising he was standing in for Tim Henman, who had flown back to London in the early hours of Tuesday after losing in the first round of the Dubai Open on Monday night.
As far as the pupils were concerned, the Swiss Wimbledon champion and world No 1 was a more than acceptable substitute for the British No 1.
Henman had been asked to visit Jumeirah Primary School on Tuesday after an eight-year-old pupil, Emily Kirton, won an "adopt an idol" competition organised for local schoolchildren by the tournament's sponsor.
The children had been asked to write in 100 words or less why they would want a tennis player to visit their school. Emily's winning entry used a letter at the start of each paragraph that spelled out Tim Henman.
Henman, whose poster was prominently displayed in the city, was amenable to the school visit as part of the ATP Tour's "stars programme", which is designed to promote the sport.
However, after losing on Monday night to Tomas Zib, a Czech qualifier ranked 149th in the world, Henman said he would not be able to go ahead with the visit because he was catching a flight at 2.45am.
Pupils, parents and grandparents were disappointed on Tuesday morning when the school principal announced that Henman was not coming. The school sent a letter of complaint to the tournament.
Henman said yesterday: "The tournament tried to sell it that I was 95 per cent certain to go [to the school]. It was certainly something which never should have been agreed from my point of view. Unfortunately, if someone from the tournament's point of view says it's 95 per cent certain I am going to do that, it's not the case."
Iggy Jovanovic, an ATP director of public relations, said: "The ATP can agree to a commitment but can't force a player to stay at a tournament after he has lost. Some tournaments have a time-clause contract with players stating that they have to stay until a certain date, win or lose. There was no clause in this case.
"Lots of players leave after losing, without completing their promotional work. It hasn't happened before with Tim. He is not the type who needs to have everything in writing. He is one of the best ambassadors in the game. I partly blame myself for not pushing Tim hard enough about Dubai Duty Free's request to visit the school."
Henman, who has a charity, "Kids At Heart", deserves his reputation as one of the most helpful and co-operative players in the sport. Last Sunday, on the eve of the tournament, he spent the afternoon in interviews with local and international media.
"When I spoke to Iggy at the start of the tournament," Henman said, "the only thing set in stone was the round table [interviews] and questions from the Arabic media, which I did. And there were a number of other options: a helicopter ride and a couple of other things, a camel ride and a school visit.
"We left it to see how my schedule unfolded, and I said I was always happy to do those things if it fitted my schedule. To say I didn't keep the commitment is wrong," he added.
"The headmaster is definitely entitled to write a letter, but to say I am 95 per cent certain to come to the school is news to me."
A spokesman for the tournament said: "If the school was quoted as saying that, I'm sorry, but there was nothing documented to that effect. We understand how difficult it can be for the players, and never guarantee anything. Tim Henman left the country with our blessing."
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