Tim Henman's week in Antwerp has confirmed an old sporting adage that class acts can win when they are playing badly, but it also confirmed a more basic adage - that if you play badly you can lose.
After four victories which owed more to winning the right points than the best ones, the British No1 could not find the magic on the few opportunities offered him by Marc Rosset, and the 6ft 7in Swiss carried off the diamond studded golden racket that is the European Community Championship trophy by winning an uninspiring final 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 in two hours nine minutes.
"I've been playing this game for 20 years," Rosset told the crowd, "and I have rackets made of wood, aluminium, graphite and now gold - and I like the golden one best."
Symbolically, it started to become heavy in the arms of the Swiss as he stood through the European Community anthem, as if to emphasise the irony of a non-EC national winning the biggest sporting event to which the Community puts its name.
Rosset has been striking the ball well this week. He has also been striking, in a pair of bright orange tennis shoes that look like roller skates without the wheels. Yet it was the British campaign whose wheels fell off - in fact they were never on in a first set which had less activity than a Quaker funeral. Henman was so sluggish he looked ill, and his movement around the court was well nigh non-existent.
In the second set the rag doll finally began to look like a tennis player. His returns started to work and a handful of break points appeared which could have been turning points.
The success of Henman's week - indeed his year to date - have lain in his ability to take a rare chance in a match in which his form has been unconvincing. This time it not only didn't happen, but Rosset turned the tables. At 5-5 after Henman had squandered three game points, a double fault gave the Swiss his first breakpoint of the set which he converted after retrieving a Henman smash that lacked conviction.
When Rosset converted his third set point, the alp became too high for Henman to climb, and it rather summed up the match that his one break came when he was already a break down (at 2-3 in the third set), and he promptly dropped his own serve to hand back the advantage. "He played the big points better than I did," Henman said.
This philosophical approach to defeat has become a standard feature of the Henman repertoire, though this time he was forced to admit that he would probably be less philosophical when away from the media and public's gaze and in the company of his closest advisers.
Iva Majoli, of Croatia, fought back from a set and match point down to beat the top seed, Jana Novotna, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 and retain her title in a repeat of last year's final at the WTA tournament in Hanover yesterday.Reuse content