A combination of the nemesis factor and laughably inept officiating crushed Tim Henman's ambitions of a place in today's Stella Artois final at Queen's Club. By winning 6-3 3-6 6-2, Lleyton Hewitt extended to 9-1 his lifetime grip over Henman, but a marvellously competitive clash was tilted away from Henman early in the final set by the dismal quality of both the line calling and the umpiring of Italy's Manuel Messina.
There were half-a-dozen abysmal calls or chair decisions, of which only one went Henman's way, but the crucial one came with Tim, having swept six of the previous seven games to lead 2-0 in the third set, dropping serve on the flap of a baseline judge's arm. The Hawk-eye system used in conjunction with the BBC television commentary showed the ball clipping the line, but the official, having signalled the shot good, then changed his mind to indicate the ball was out.
Having already told Messina briskly in the second set that the quality of umpiring was "rubbish", Henman next called the tournament supervisor, Thomas Hallberg, on to court to protest that the standard "was not good enough". But Hallberg said later: "There was no reason for me to step in and do anything." Crucially, Henman's exciting momentum was shattered and Hewitt, no slouch when it comes to moving in for the kill against distracted opposition, swept into the final of the tournament he won three times in a row between 2000-02.
"I am annoyed at letting it get to me, I didn't deal with it very well," was Henman's post-match reaction. "The line calling was appalling today. When there are as many bad calls as that, it is going to happen on a big point eventually, and it did. It turned the match around, and it ran away from me very quickly... The positive thing is that I have been playing so well. I would have loved to have got into the final again but it has been a fantastic week."
Henman's prospects of a fourth appearance in the Stella final looked bleak in a first set dominated by Hewitt's overwhelming proportion of first serves on target and acute judgement of length on his groundstrokes. Having sailed through four rounds without the loss of a set, Henman was one down in only 25 minutes, having claimed a mere two points on the Hewitt serve; it was Hewitt at his fighting best, something not seen for a while from the 2002 Wimbledon champion, who has not won a tournament in almost 18 months.
With his second serve still being dealt with severely by the Australian, Henman struggled to stay on terms in the second set but he was fighting well, urging the somnolent crowd to get behind him, and it paid off as he finally began to get to Hewitt's serve. There was a break point in the fourth game, not taken, and another in the sixth, which was, to put him 4-2 up. Henman managed a smile at the ludicrous line calling, but irritation showed as Messina overruled to call out a ball which landed on the baseline and was shown by Hawk-eye on TV to have been good.
At this stage Henman was playing his best tennis of a memorable week, sweeping the ball deep to the corners and surging to the net to cut off Hewitt's passing shots. Vintage stuff, none more so than when he closed out the second set with a glorious scoring sequence - backhand volley, smash, stunning lob to set point and then a service winner.
Henman's momentum was maintained as he broke a startled Hewitt to love with four more strokes of supreme quality. Hewitt might have collapsed in the face of this onslaught, but that is not in his nature. He roared his trademark "c'mon" a time or two, and set about trying to mend the holes punched in his game by Henman's brilliance.
And, with the help of that flapping arm, he managed it. As the Henman resistance ebbed away, Hewitt revved up to claim his place in this afternoon's final, where he will face James Blake, who ended Andy Roddick's ambitions of four straight Stella titles with a 7-5 6-4 win.
For Henman, there was the certainty that Hawk-eye would have made a difference if it had been in full tournament use, rather than as a TV adjunct. The fact that the Stella people are looking at the possibilities of installing it, perhaps next year, was not of much help yesterday.
Andy Murray, who has taken a wild card into this week's Nottingham tournament, has been drawn against Russia's Dmitry Tursunov in the first round. Greg Rusedski has withdrawn with a hip injury.Reuse content