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Henman ready to shoulder hopes again

Tim Henman leads a relatively low-key existence but come Wimbledon fortnight and the Briton's life becomes a media circus as he carries the hopes of a nation at the grasscourt grand slam.

tennis Updated: Jun 19, 2003 10:15 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

For 50 weeks of the year Tim Henman leads a relatively low-key existence but come Wimbledon fortnight and the Briton's life becomes a media circus as he carries the hopes of a nation at the grasscourt grand slam.

In a country starved of Wimbledon success, Henman has had almost a decade to get used to the frenzy that surrounds him as he bids to become the first homegrown men's champion since Fred Perry held aloft the gleaming trophy in 1936.

After four semi-final and two quarter-final appearances over the last seven years, Henman will once again attempt to end Britain's 67-year wait and it is a challenge he looks forward to every June.

"If you would have said 10 years ago that a British player was going to be top 10 in the world four out of the last five years and reach four Wimbledon semis, you would have been accused of smoking something," the 28-year-old Henman said at Queen's Club last week.

"But this is my favourite time of year, my favourite tournament and the one I most desperately want to win.

"Throw in the support and there is no doubt it gives me a lift."

Unlike in previous years, though, it will be a cautious Henman who will walk through the All England Club gates next week.

For a player who thrives on the short grasscourt season, his build-up to Wimbledon has been rather low-key as he battles to regain full fitness after undergoing right-shoulder surgery last November.

LACKING CONFIDENCE

Henman, yet to capture a title in 2003 and with only nine wins under his belt this season, is clearly lacking the confidence to go far in his favourite tournament.

In fact, it was not until last week's Stella Artois Championships that he managed to string together three victories in the same week.

"Obviously the expectations are lower than in previous years but that doesn't mean my desire to win Wimbledon is any less," said Henman, who has been boosted up to 10th in the seedings despite being ranked 29th in the world.

"Last year I played my worst ever Wimbledon but still got to the semis. Obviously that shows that I have what it takes to do well there and there's still the belief that I can win two more matches and win the title."

The Briton may want to avoid putting pressure on himself as he begins his 10th attempt at winning the title but he knows the nation expects.

"Henmania" has become a fixture in the British sporting calendar and the player even has a picnic area at the All England Club named after him -- "Henman Hill", where fans unable to get courtside seats follow his matches on a giant television screen.

However, when Henman looks down the 2003 draw sheet he will breath a huge sigh of relief as one name will be missing -- Pete Sampras.

SAMPRAS FACTOR

For years, the Sampras factor proved to be Henman's undoing at the championships.

The pair are good friends off court but Henman never got the measure of Sampras whenever the American stood on the opposite side of the net.

Three times they clashed at the All England Club, and three times Henman was handed a masterclass in grasscourt tennis by the seven-times Wimbledon champion.

Last year, after Sampras had been unexpectedly beaten in the second round, a British tabloid headline screamed: "No pressure, Timbo but choke now and we'll never forgive you".

Although he did not choke, he was once again soundly beaten in the last four by eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt.

The fact that two baseliners -- Argentine David Nalbandian was the surprise runner-up -- contested the final 12 months ago has also frustrated Henman as he believes organisers have deliberately slowed down the grass courts.

"There obviously has been an effort to slow the game down and I question whether it's gone a little bit too far on grass," said the serve-and-volley exponent, whose attacking style has been hampered by the slower surface.

"It's making life a lot harder, that is for sure."

Having never made it to the quarter-finals of any other grand slam, the green grass of the exclusive south London club still offers Henman his best chance of landing any major silverware.

"I have dreamt what it would be like to win Wimbledon," said Henman.

"I know in the short term my life may change drastically but I'd be happy to put up with it if I won Wimbledon."

First Published: Jun 19, 2003 10:15 IST