Tim Henman won by an expletive. Well, almost. The British No 1 came close to losing his opening match of the clay court season against Vince Spadea at the Monte Carlo Masters here yesterday, even after his American opponent had been penalised a point for an audible obscenity during a tie-break in the final set.
Winning ugly was the province of Brad Gilbert - he wrote a book on the subject - but Henman, who prevailed, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, after two hours and 50 minutes, admitted he played "some horrible-looking tennis" in conditions that tried the patience of both players.
The erratic contest began in sunshine and wind and ended in grey clouds and bluster, on and off the court, not least because the players struggled to control the latest ball introduced by the ATP: a hard-compression model that, Henman said, "was flying around the court, accentuating bad bounces".
There were errors aplenty, interlaced with splendid drives and drop-shots and twists of fortune that kept the Centre Court spectators interested.
"I had a lot of problems with everything," Henman said. "If it had been a practice match, I think we would both have stopped through lack of rackets or lack of desire to continue."
Henman was warned for swearing by the French umpire, Pascal Maris, after letting slip a 4-1 lead in the concluding set. "I thought I was extremely controlled with the shout on one occasion," Henman said afterwards, smiling.
Spadea, warned already for breaking a racket, served away a match point at 5-6, only to find himself 2-0 down in the deciding tie-break after being docked a point for giving vent to his frustration with an audible obscenity. One more misdemeanour and he would have been disqualified.
"Vince was pretty unlucky, actually," said Henman. "The crowd were making quite a lot of noise and I don't know if too many would have heard it."
Henman was unable to capitalise on that advantage in the shoot-out, Spadea recovering to 2-2 and then fighting back from 2-4 to 4-4. The American hit a backhand long to 5-6, and Henman secured the second match point with a service winner.
Although Henman created the majority of opportunities throughout the match, Spadea, ranked No 31, had the guile to alter the pace of the game with his drop-shots. He won the first-set tie-break, 7-5, but then lost a 2-0 lead in the second set.
Henman began to waver after failing to convert either of two break points for a 5-1 lead in the final set. He compounded this by double-faulting twice from game point at 4-2, losing his serve with an ill-judged drop-shot that invited Spadea to pass him down the line.
This at least led to a frantic finish. Spadea netted a drop shot to be broken to 3-5, only for Henman to curse after failing to serve the match out. Henman then recovered from 5-5 with an ace, a forehand volley and a service winner and won the game with a forehand drive that clipped the net and was transformed into a drop-shot.
Henman now plays David Sanchez, of Spain, who defeated the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach, 6-1, 6-4. Henman won his only previous match against Sanchez, on a concrete court in Doha in January.
The magnificent Riviera setting makes the Monte Carlo Masters one of the gems of the ATP Tour, but three of the world's tennis masters, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, have neglected to grace the tournament with their presence. So much for the solidarity of the men's Tour. At least the careworn WTA Tour has the excuse that three of their leading players, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams, are unwell or injured.Reuse content