Despite having treatment on court for his shoulder, serving indifferently and losing decisively in the semi-finals of the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's Club yesterday, Tim Henman insists all is fine with his health as the run-up to Wimbledon gets under way.
Henman, who had been runner-up at this event three times in the last four years, never looked like getting there again and was deservedly beaten 6-3 6-4 by Sebastien Grosjean, an opponent he had defeated three out of four previous times, most recently on clay in the spring. But unlike most other Frenchmen, Grosjean is not a clay-court craftsman. He lives in Florida, prefers hard courts and clearly enjoys grass, too.
Grosjean, who took a wild card into the Stella, will face the power-serving Andy Roddick in this afternoon's final, the American 20-year-old having posted his first-ever victory over fellow American Andre Agassi, 6-1 6-7 7-6.
Despite the early-evening entreaties of an audience audibly fuelled on Pimm's, Henman was unable to impose any sort of authority on a surface where he has previously thrived. He fell 4-1 behind in the first set before rousing himself, saving two set points at 2-5 before Grosjean wrapped it up at the third opportunity with a deft drop shot.
Treatment on the shoulder between sets did not bring an upturn of fortune. His second serve frequently a gift as it trundled over the net at speeds below 90mph, Henman was twice broken to go 4-1 behind before another spirited rally raised the hopes of the "C'mon, Timmy" brigade before they were dashed, inevitably, by an opponent who had long realised that steadiness and application would be enough to see him through.
"My shoulder was a bit stiff today," said Henman, "but it is just caused by an accumulation of serving more aggressively and the balls being heavier at this tournament. I certainly don't envisage it being an ongoing problem."
The British No 1 gave credit to Grosjean, "who played good tennis and made my life much harder", but he also admitted: "There were some shots I missed which I should not have and they ended up costing me. You can't afford those extra donations. Winning three matches here [the first time he has done that since Wimbledon a year ago] has to be a positive sign. But it still doesn't hide my disappointment because I would have liked to get to the final again."
Explaining that he had had hot cream rubbed into his shoulder joint between sets, Henman added: "Sometimes when I catch a backhand late and the joint is exposed a bit, it isn't too comfortable and I would be lying if I said it wasn't always in the back of my mind. But if I had got to the final I would have been ready, raring to go.
"The shoulder is getting stronger all the time, but with so much emphasis on serving on the grass it has been taking a bit of a battering. But it should be OK. I have learned to differentiate between stiffness and a pain you should not try to go through. This is something you play through."
Twenty four hours after regaining No 1 spot in the world rankings, Agassi was rocked by an opponent 13 years his junior in the other semi-final. The match, the firepower of Roddick versus the courtcraft of Agassi, was a fascinating contrast between the present and the future of American tennis. It was the first time the kid (if you can thus describe someone who stands 6ft 2in) from Omaha, Nebraska, had beaten the compatriot he probably admires above all others.
Roddick, seventh in the world rankings, struck 29 aces, a dozen of them in three successive service games in the second set, and did more than enough to demonstrate that in this mood he will cause considerable havoc at Wimbledon, even if the grass there has been doctored to make it slower these days.
The wild card which Agassi took into this tournament has offered priceless match practice in readiness for the Championships in eight days' time. He will also, doubtless, be boosted by going through the gates of the All England Club as the top seed.
However, nothing could disguise his frustration at permitting Roddick to supplant him in this afternoon's final. One expletive, issued as he drove a forehand out of court in the second set tie-break, cost him a code of conduction violation warning from the umpire, Wayne McKewen, and at the end, following a perfunctory handshake with the winner, Agassi hurried off court. No bows or kisses this time.
Two of Roddick's aces were clocked at 143mph, six miles an hour short of Greg Rusedski's world record set five years ago at Indian Wells, and one serve, which incredibly Agassi laid his racket on, equalled that Rusedski mark, at least according to the tournament speed gun.
Agassi had no complaints about the result. "I deserved to lose this match and yet I still had some chances, so that's a positive that I can give myself. When you hit the spot with a serve like Andy's there is not much anybody can do about it. But every time I got my nose in front I was willing myself not to put the ball away, so I got pretty much what I deserved. I didn't have the composure to put it away, and it is hard for me to feel good about that. Andy has a lot of firepower and a real nice game. I can only hope for better for myself at Wimbledon."