Britain's Martin Lee was defeated in his first-ever ATP Tour final yesterday, losing 6-1, 6-4 to the South African Neville Godwin in the Hall of Fame championships here.
Despite his straight-sets defeat at this grass-court tournament, Lee can feel very satisfied with his performances recently. He reached his first career ATP quarter-final in Nottingham, only to be beaten in straight sets by the British No 2, Greg Rusedski, and also reached the final of a tournament in Hamilton, New Zealand, in March. With his first appearance in a Tour final, he certainly appears to be on an upward curve and will significantly improve his ranking from his present position of 135 when the new list is issued today.
Lee reached the final by edging past the American James Blake, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6, on Saturday. The British No 3 secured victory in a tie-break in the final set of their semi-final. The 23-year-old from Worthing showed his self-belief, surviving after going 5-4 down in the tie-break.
Lee said: ''I feel bad for James. He didn't do anything wrong in that game. At 5-4 I just hit three of the best passing shots I have ever hit. I was very nervous. At 5-5 I played a great point and just decided to hit the next shot as hard as I could.
"It's a big stepping stone for me [to reach an ATP final]. I've been enjoying tennis the last year and having fun. I have got the shots. I can run all day and I have the flair to hit the shots when I need them. I just need to get mentally better."
Lee has reached three Challenger finals in his career, but was knocked out of this year's Wimbledon tournament in the second round by the British No 1, Tim Henman, following a fine first-round win in straight sets over the veteran Italian, Gianluca Pozzi.
From the grass of Rhode Island, Lee will now move straight on to a clay-court tournament in Amsterdam.
Godwin was in fine form, having beaten Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, in his semi-final and yesterday's defeat of Lee brought him his first ATP title. The 26-year-old from Johannesburg finished runner-up here three years ago, losing to the Indian Leander Paes, 6-3, 6-2.
* The unseeded Czech Jiri Novak ended Spain's domination of the Swiss Open yesterday when he defeated the second seed, Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-1, 6-7, 7-5 in a rain-affected final in Gstaad. Novak's victory marked only the second time in 11 years that a Spaniard had failed to claim the Swiss title. It was the second title of the year for Novak, who also won the Munich Open.