Tim Henman is a firm believer in sport’s ability to spin a surprise success story, but is hardly a betting man. The 39-year-old, who went as high as No 4 in the world, plays it safe while picking the top two players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, as the favourites for the Australian Open. Henman was in Mumbai to launch the ‘HSBC Road to Wimbledon’ on Sunday and held a kids’ clinic before sitting down for a chat with HT. Excerpts.
Players from Eastern European countries are doing better than some of the more affluent tennis nations. Do we sometimes tend to over-emphasise on the importance of facilities?
I think so. We were just talking about Serbia and the problems the country faced during the war. But now they have a crop of great players. Those individuals have achieved what they have because of their dreams and aspirations, and because they are prepared to work hard for it. A tennis court is a tennis court anywhere in the world, you have to be mentally and physically prepared to give your 100 per cent every time you step on it.
You possibly know better than anyone of the pressure of expectations. How overwhelming did it get at Wimbledon?
I never thought about it that way. The fact is that I played my best tennis at Wimbledon. If you think that 15,000 people in the stadium are expecting you to win, or that 15 million watching on television are expecting you to win, a lot of that pressure will be self-inflicted. I always saw Wimbledon as my home tournament, as a place I grew up dreaming of playing; the grass, the royal box. That’s a much better picture to paint.
Talking of surfaces slowing down, what do you make of the tennis now served up at Wimbledon?
Well, they have changed it to 100% rye grass now which means the ball doesn’t skid through as much and the courts are playing slower. A lot of people thought in the 1990s that the matches had been reduced to a serving competition. That was partly true because rallies would hardly last for two-three shots and it got a little boring for the spectators. Now all the surfaces have become similar paced. That’s something that I would like to change.
Given the stranglehold of the big four in men’s tennis, is a story like Richard Krajicek winning Wimbledon in 1996 possible?
Why not. That’s the beauty of sport, anything can happen. But if I were to choose a favourite for the Australian Open, it would be difficult to look beyond (Novak) Djokovic and (Rafael) Nadal. (Andy) Murray is just coming off a back surgery and of course there is always (Roger) Federer. The top four, and I still consider Federer a part of it, have been so consistent that it has been difficult for the others to come through. But players like (Juan Martin) Del Potro and (Stanislas) Wawrinka could spring a surprise.