Decline of the British empire

Tim Henman reached the quarters at Wimbledon eight times. However, with second-round exits the last two years, the decline of tennis in the British empire is complete.

Updated: July 1, 2006, 5:18 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- The autopsy was predictably grim. For the 13th consecutive year, Tim Henman -- led by the dour and disheartened British scribes -- discussed his failure at the All England Club.

The 31-year-old from Oxford, England, fell to the world's best player, Roger Federer, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 Wednesday on stately Centre Court.

Tim Henman
Daniel Berehulak/Getty ImagesAfter a hard-fought first set, Tim Henman (right) won just one more game against Roger Federer.

"I'm sure I'm not the first person to lose to him, and I won't be the last -- because he's that good," Henman said. "It's disappointing because I couldn't have a bigger impact in the match."

Before his match with the No. 1 seed, Henman talked bravely of doing his best and said with modest conviction that he believed the pressure was on Federer. It never materialized as Federer won his record 43rd consecutive match on grass.

The middle set was particularly embarrassing: Six games lost and five points won in 20 minutes. And so, the death of tennis in the British empire now can be declared officially.

Henman is an accomplished player. On five occasions, he finished the year ranked among the ATP's top 10 players. He has won 11 titles, but never a Grand Slam. He has gracefully carried the hopes of the United Kingdom here at Wimbledon, and he overachieved and reached the quarterfinals eight times.

He has been to the semifinals of a Grand Slam event six times -- including four at Wimbledon -- but never further. The prospects for further advancement, at this stage, seem unlikely.

Based on the rankings, 32-year-old Greg Rusedski is Great Britain's best player, checking in at a respectable No. 40. But he was born in Montreal and doesn't inflame passions quite like Henman -- or Andy Murray, for that matter.

The future, already here, belongs to Murray, the 19-year-old from Scotland. He plays a second-round match Thursday against Julien Benneteau of France. In a torch-passing kind of way, it will be played on Centre Court.

The British fairly ache for a champion, and The Lawn Tennis Association -- the ruling tennis organization -- is putting its money where its hope is.

Murray, who already has been through three coaches, is looking for a fourth. His team had talks with Larry Stefanki, Henman's former coach, but now has directed its attention to Brad Gilbert, who coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick to the greatest heights of their careers.

The LTA has acknowledged an offer to Gilbert, said to be in the neighborhood of 500,000 English pounds or about $910,000, to coach Murray and do some consulting with other British players and coaches. Gilbert, an ESPN analyst, said he will wait until after the tournament to decide whether he'll accept the post.

Certainly, it couldn't hurt.

Usually, when players walk out onto the court for a match, they avoid eye contact and work themselves into an amped-up, anti-opponent state of mind. On Wednesday, Henman and Federer chatted easily as they walked out on Centre Court.

"I don't enjoy it so much to play against the crowd, sort of," Federer said. "Especially very difficult if you're playing so well like I did today, to sort of be happy about the whole thing because you know they're not really enjoying it -- Tim, obviously not.

"It's not a lot of fun beating a friend like this."

Henman said he planned to play "definitely a few more years."

When asked whether he planned to cut down his schedule next year, his answer was defensive.

"For what reason?" Henman asked. "No, no, no, no. Don't know where that came from."

Like Agassi, who clearly relished Tuesday's first-round appearance on Centre Court, Henman lives for that jolt of energy that comes when things are going well.

"It's been such a good place for me, and the fans watching have been so fantastic," Henman said. "There's disappointment for myself, but also an element of disappointment for them that I couldn't give them more to get involved in.

"I definitely hope to be out there again."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.