Fantastic finish and farewell for Tim Henman
Tim Henman never won Wimbledon, but Great Britain's best player over the last decade ended his career a winner at the All England Club.
LONDON -- Tim Henman walked into the locker room at Wimbledon five years ago and was confronted by this headline from one of England's notoriously unforgiving tabloids: "Tim, if you choke this year, we will never forgive you." He's also been described as the "human color of beige."As his career came to an end at, appropriately, the All England Club against Croatia on Saturday, the criticism was replaced by praise for the 33-year-old who carried the torch for British tennis for more than a decade, sporadically helped by transplanted Canuck Greg Rusedski. Shortly after hitting a winning forehand in the doubles rubber that sent Great Britain into the Davis Cup world group, chants of "Henman, Henman" reverberated around Court One and a protracted standing ovation from 11,000 fans only concluded when Henman did a television interview courtside. He left the arena clutching his oldest daughter, 4-year-old Rosie. A day earlier, he kissed the grass and wept in his chair following victory over Roko Karanusic in his last singles encounter.
With all due respect to Greg, I almost think British tennis wouldn't have existed without Tim.
Henman, who made the semis at the French Open and U.S. Open in 2004 and pocketed nearly $12 million in career prize money, labeled much of the criticism "rubbish.""If I'm from a middle-class background, do I apologize for that?" he said. "Did I have a say in that? It's ridiculous. I would ask those people one question: What is success? If you're the fourth-best player on the planet, is that success? If it's not in your eyes, that's fine." Durie said she felt the pressure following in the footsteps of countrywomen Virginia Wade, who won Wimbledon in 1977, and Sue Barker, who triumphed at Roland Garros a year earlier. She confessed to having it easy compared with Henman, though. "It was pretty extreme in my day, and I think it's got worse," said Durie. "You had Henman Hill, which was fabulous. You had all those people willing Tim on, but it's a hell of a thing to take on your shoulders. You have to be kind of a level-headed person to deal with it, and for sure Tim is." That demeanor caught the eye of Paul Annacone when he was still working with Sampras, and Annacone went on to coach Henman the past four years. "I forget which year it was at Wimbledon, maybe 1995 or 1996," Annacone said. "Pete and I were at dinner, and with all the radio, TV, every newspaper, we saw the microscope he was living under. He just seemed like such a class act the way he was dealing with it. That triggered a light bulb in my head saying, 'this is a pretty special guy.' From what I see and the way he's been interpreted, I think it's been a little bit of a shame because the guy should be a hero." On Sunday, the negativity was gone. One tabloid proclaimed him "super" and another ran the headline, "Tim says farewell but will never be forgotten." Ivanisevic has called on the All England Club to erect a statue of Henman alongside Perry's, and some fans paying tribute to Henman on the LTA's Web site want the grassy knoll near Court One to officially be renamed Henman Hill. Ritchie said it probably wouldn't happen. "Our policy has always been, and I don't really believe we're going to change that, to not name parts of the ground after players for all sorts of reasons," he said. "But that takes nothing away from what a fantastic contribution Tim has made, and we said that to him. We'll make sure that's made clear in due course as well."
Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist.
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