Many heartbreaks later, ‘Tin Man’ helps build new dreams

A lover of grass courts and traditional serve and volley, the 39-year-old launched the Road to Wimbledon in India in partnership with the Wimbledon Foundation at the DLTA.

sports Updated: Jan 10, 2014 01:18 IST
Sharmistha Chaudhuri
Sharmistha Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times

When the world saw Rafael Nadal dominate the Roland Garros red clay in 2005, especially during the semifinals when the birthday boy used his incredible strength, brute force, skill and creativity to halt Roger Federer’s bid to complete a career Grand Slam, pundits knew they were witnessing something special. "

Two days later when the 19-year-old from Mallorca won the first of his 13 Majors — and the first of eight in Paris — the self-made lefty left the world of tennis shattered. The unheralded teenager ushered in a new style in the modern era — a relentless and powerful game from the baseline. And the fact that he never made a mistake but instead wore his opponents down has made Nadal what he is today.

Others, trying to match up to the Spaniard’s ferocity, learnt to tweak their games in a bid to beat him. While Novak Djokovic went off gluten, Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl — a game-changer in his own right — to create a stir. “Today we see a huge change in tennis. It’s become rather straightforward and simple,” claims former British world No. 4 Tim Henman. “To break it down, the game, you need to be fast, hit the ball really hard and not make a mistake.”

Bygone era

A far cry from his professional days when you had the flamboyant Andre Agassi, the calm Pete Sampras and the love for serve and volley with Henman and Pat Rafter still showing the fans how it’s done.

Calling it quits in 2007, the four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist has turned to coaching and commentating. A lover of grass courts and traditional serve and volley, the 39-year-old launched the Road to Wimbledon in India in partnership with the Wimbledon Foundation at the DLTA on Thursday. “It’s sad that children today are not really taught how to volley properly, but on the other hand the playing standards are the best that has ever been.

The demands have changed. The game has become more physical. You need to be fast and strong to be able to play at the highest level. Aspiring tennis players today need to be enormously dedicated and disciplined, both mentally and physically,” Henman feels.

First impression

Hailing from a tennis-loving family, was the sport a natural choice then? “I was best at it than the other games actually,” he grins, the voice betraying a hint of tiredness. Taken to Wimbledon by his mother at the age of six, it was watching Bjorn Borg play that sealed the deal. “I knew I wanted to pursue tennis after that.”

It was four weeks in the summer of 1994 in India that kick-started Henman’s career, winning three titles on the trot. After 11 ATP Tour titles, an Olympic silver medal in doubles (1996) and reaching a career-best ranking of four in 2002, the chip and charger these days is focused on catching them young. While you have Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker in the news for training the top ATP pros, Henman would rather focus on youngsters, encouraging them to pick up a racket. “They are the future, aren’t they?”

Visiting Delhi and Mumbai with the All England Club head coach Dan Bloxham, the two are here to impart knowledge in a series of tennis clinics. The venture will see two Indian boys and girls get an opportunity to participate in the UK National tennis championship in August.

First Published: Jan 10, 2014 01:00 IST