Tim Henman has still to go beyond the fourth round in any Grand Slam other than Wimbledon after suffering a demoralising straight sets defeat to unseeded Swede Jonas Bjorkman at the Australian Open today.
Henman, the highest remaining seed in the tournament after the second round, failed to recapture the form which took care of Greg Rusedski on Friday.
After losing his first three service games he lost 2-6 6-7 6-4, Bjorkman winning the second set tie-break 8/6 and going through to the quarter-finals on his fifth match point.
The British number one missed a set point in the tie-breaker, but an amazing shot off a Henman smash helped Bjorkman take it and the momentum stayed with him.
Bjorkman, much the sharper and living up to his reputation on return of serve, missed two set points at 5-1 in the first set, but took it 6-2 on his next chance.
It remained to be seen whether a cry of "Do it for the Queen" would inspire Henman to greater things in the second.
Henman, whose first serve rate had dropped from its 70% average earlier in the week to only 57% in the first set, saved yet another break point before holding serve at the start of the second.
Disgusted with himself for some of his play, he did pick things up in the next game, but Bjorkman saved two break points.
Henman's morale was really boosted, however, when he did break for 5-3, only to promptly lose the next game.
At 6-5 he was twice two points from levelling the match, but Bjorkman held to force a tie-break.
The Swede achieved two mini-breaks in it for 4/1, double-faulted on the next point and had two serves for the set at 5/4. But he appeared to tighten up a fraction and Henman got all square, then hit a lob winner which brought him a set point at 6/5.
Both were at the net to contest the next point and Bjorkman, against the odds, won it.
He then somehow reached a Henman smash on the 13th point of the tie-break and amazingly turned it into a winner.
So again he served for the set at 7/6 and took it 8/6 to lead by two sets to love.
Henman has come from two sets down to win only once in his career - against Czech Slava Dosedel in a 2000 Davis Cup tie - but at least the temperature had dropped to give him hope of lasting five sets if he could get that far.
He had two breaks points at 3-3 in the third, but netted a forehand on the first when he chose to stay deep and on the second Bjorkman came up with an ace.
The games went with serve and at 5-4 Bjorkman was one from the quarter-finals.
Henman faced two match points at 15-40 in the next game, saved the first with a good serve and volley and saved the second as well after Bjorkman again visibly tensed up.
A brilliant backhand topspin lob from way behind the baseline brought the Swede his third match point, but Henman came up with a forehand winner to stay alive again.
A fourth came, but another fine kicking serve enabled him to save that one too. Then there was a fifth and Bjorkman lashed a cross-court forehand past Henman's body and was through 6-2 7-6 6-4.
Henman knew he was against one of the best returners in the game, however. Bjorkman is ranked number one in doubles in the world, although he and Australian Todd Woodbridge, the top seeds and defending champions, were beaten yesterday.
In 12 previous appearance by British men in the last 16 in Melbourne in the Open era only four players had been able to go further. John Lloyd was the last in 1985 and the others were Robin Drysdale in 1977, Mark Cox in 1971 and Roger Taylor in 1970.
Taylor was at courtside today in his capacity as Davis Cup captain - interested, naturally, not only in Henman's form, but also that of Bjorkman.
It was not easy watching for him.Reuse content