Britain gears up for annual outbreak of Henmania
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Britain gears up for annual outbreak of Henmania

It has become as much a part of a British sporting summer as fruit-laden hats at Royal Ascot: Tim Henman raising hopes of a triumph at Wimbledon to fever pitch.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2003 10:51 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

It has become as much a part of a British sporting summer as fruit-laden hats at Royal Ascot: Tim Henman raising hopes of a home triumph at Wimbledon to fever pitch.

Four times in the last five years, the British number one has taken his fans on a rollercoaster ride from hope to heartache by advancing to the semi-finals only to stumble just as the biggest prize in tennis appears to be within his grasp.

Few would bet against a fresh outbreak of Henmania this year.

It normally only takes a couple of wins to get the juices flowing among Henman's most fervent supporters -- the bulk of them, it seems, middle-aged, middle-class women seduced by their hero's blend of considerable ability with an old-fashioned, understated Englishness.

They will never give up hope that their Tim will be the man to finally end Britain's 67-year wait for a home-grown champion.

But with every year that passes the odds on a Henman victory lengthen a little more and his preparations for this year's tournament have been far from encouraging.

Shoulder surgery at the end of last year kept the 28-year-old sidelined until April and has not eliminated the pain which forced him to go under the knife in the first place.

During his semi-final defeat by Sebastien Grosjean in the traditional Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queen's, Henman had to have treatment on the shoulder.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have it always in the back of my mind," he admitted.

The injury problems have resulted in Henman dropping to 29th in the world rankings. But his solid grasscourt record has seen him installed as the 10th seed and the draw has been relatively kind to him.

The late withdrawal of Spaniard Alex Corretja following the birth of his first child means Henman will start against Tomas Zib of the Czech Republic, a lucky loser from the qualifying competition.

Victory in that match would set up an equally winnable second round tie against Spain's David Sanchez or France's Michael Llodra.

But according to his former coach, David Felgate, the kindly draw may not necessarily be in Henman's best interests.

"With a lack of matches this year because of his shoulder injury, it is even more important that he gets some good tough matches under his belt to give him the confidence going into the second week," Felgate warned.

Happily for British fans, their hopes do not rest entirely on Henman's suspect shoulders.

Just in time for Wimbledon, Greg Rusedski appears to have emerged from the injury nightmare that almost forced him to quit in despair earlier this year.

The 29-year-old only resumed competitive tennis at the French Open last month after undergoing foot and knee surgery at the end of last year.

A neck injury further hampered his recovery and prevented him from getting back on court.

But having worked intensively on his fitness in the gym, Rusedski seemed to have slipped straight into something close to his best form as he romped to victory in last week's warm-up tournament at Nottingham.

After sweeping American Mardy Fish aside in the final on Saturday, he attributed his form to the physical work he had done during those frustrating months when he could not get out on court.

"I stop-started three times and I've been on the stationary bike for about 20,000 miles," he said. "But all the work has finally come to fruition and paid off.

"I've worked hard on my fitness and now I've got the match hardness so I'm very excited about Wimbledon."

First Published: Jun 22, 2003 10:10 IST