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Henmania fizzles out in Wimbledon drizzle

Put away the Union Jack hats and take down the "Tiger Tim" posters ? Britain's annual bout of "Henmania" is over for another year. It came crashing to a halt yet again as Sebastian Grosjean knocked out Henman in the quarter-finals.
PTI | By Reuters, London
PUBLISHED ON JUL 03, 2003 10:38 PM IST

Put away the Union Jack hats and take down the "Tiger Tim" posters -- Britain's annual bout of "Henmania" is over for another year.

For this island nation starved of sporting heroes, Tim Henman's pursuit of the ever elusive Wimbledon crown is one of the great rites of summer.

In a quintessentially British sport, Henman's compatriots hold their breath as he takes them on a rollercoaster ride.

At Wimbledon 2003, it came crashing to a halt yet again on Thursday as Sebastian Grosjean knocked out Henman in the quarter-finals after two days of rain-interrupted play.

Forget the Entente Cordiale. Grosjean instantly became the loneliest Frenchman in Britain.

For this was another bitter blow for the British who abandon their stiff upper lips every year with delirious cries of "Come On Tim" echoing around the hallowed Centre Court.

BBC television delayed its most popular soap opera so tennis fans could catch matches live. The evening news was switched to another channel as Henman attracted record viewing figures.

For two weeks of the year, Henman ranks alongside England soccer captain David Beckham as a national icon and Becksmania battled Henmania for attention.

Real Madrid officially unveiled Beckham on Wednesday as their latest signing at a glitzy ceremony beamed live across the world. In London, Henman stepped on court to have his dream shattered -- even if it did take two days.

The two sporting stars could not be more different.

Beckham is a working class hero with a pop star wife and children called Brooklyn and Romeo. A fashion icon with street cred, he is a marketing manager's dream.

Henman is the epitome of Middle England, the picture of suburban gentility. He and wife Lucy have a baby daughter called Rose Elizabeth. He advertises soap powder and orange squash.

On Thursday, millions glued to their television sets sweated for "Timbo" as he reached in vain for his Holy Grail.

For the 14,000 fans on Centre Court frantically waving their Union Jacks, Grosjean was, as the French sports daily L'Equipe said, "L'Ennemi Public No 1".


Hundreds of fans gathered outside the court on "Henman Hill" crouching under umbrellas and shouting themselves hoarse.

Munching hamburgers, quaffing beer, the "Henman Hillbillies" sat with their eyes glued to a giant screen. But there was no singing in the rain as Tim tumbled.

Boris Becker, who first won Wimbledon at the tender age of 17, really felt for Henman, his shoulders weighed down this year by a shoulder injury and the weight of a nation's expectations.

"The British are so desperate for him to succeed that they pressure him," Becker said of the player who becomes a national icon for two weeks of the year as all eyes turn to Wimbledon.

With the Henman rollercoaster grinding to a halt for another year, BBC commentator Barry Davies offered a sympathy-laden epitaph: "I don't think there is a sportsman in Britain under greater pressure. He is out there on his own."

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