Re: HENMAN: I STRUGGLE TO ADAPT
The Best Is Yet To Come, Says Henman
Once again, Tim Henman goes into this year’s Championships with the expectations of a nation sitting on his shoulders. It is just as well that those shoulders are broad and restored to full working order after his operation in November 2002, as once more he will bear the hopes of a country bereft of success.
“England Expects” was Nelson’s famous signal at Trafalgar and as Wimbledon approaches, so the interest, the hype and the expectation heightens for someone who has not only been Britain's number one for nearly a decade, but has also frequently stood at tournaments as Britain's only one.
History has played its part, with no Englishman winning the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon since Fred Perry 69 years ago. The last Englishman in the men’s final was Bunny Austin, two years after the third of Perry’s hat-trick of victories.
What needs to be borne in mind is that, although Henman has not yet managed to emulate Perry, or Austin, he has performed to an astonishing level of consistency at the All England Club. Only once in the past nine years has he failed to reach the last eight. It is a record of achievement exceeded in modern times only by the incomparable Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg.
On four occasions Tim has battled through into the semi-finals, losing to Sampras in 1998 and again the following year, to Goran Ivanisevic in that rain-wrecked thriller of 2001 and to Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. He acknowledges, with that wonderful blessing called hindsight, that his best chance came against Ivanisevic. Perhaps so, but the rain gods decreed otherwise when they halted him in full flow and Goran down in the dumps. Subsequently, no one could deny Ivanisevic on his mission to destiny.
Now, as he moves towards his 31st birthday, there are denigrators anxious to predict that Henman's best days are behind him, that there are too many younger athletes crowding him. These are assertions Tim vigorously denies.
For a mentor, Henman points to the 35-year-old Andre Agassi as someone who continues to challenge the world's best young men - as well as himself. Further, Tim is convinced he continues to learn and to improve under the wise tutelage of Paul Annacone, the coach who spent so long at the side of Sampras in his glory years.
"I don't agree that tennis is a young man's game," said Henman. "Things change so quickly. Three or four things have improved in my game and my outlook this year alone. And last year was my best in Grand Slams with those semi-finals at Roland Garros and the French Open.
"Tennis players are supposed to peak at 25, but how could I be at my peak at that age when I didn't break into the top 100 until I was 21? It is phenomenal that Roger Federer, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt can be so good at such a young age, but that's not the way my game developed. At 17 I wasn't physically strong enough.
"But that is my career path. Even when I look back on my shoulder injury there are positives. I now have a whole different outlook on the way I prepare myself for matches. I am twice as strong as I was before that injury and that has helped me to develop a better serve."
Henman has not only improved his game in recent years but he been a consistent top-ten operator in a sport where the demands imposed on its leading players inches higher and higher virtually every week.
He will be a formidable opponent when he steps on the hallowed grass at the All England Club this year.
Henman’s intention to compete at the highest level of the sport for the foreseeable future will ensure that ‘Henmania’ will be a part of SW19 for as long as he decides to play at The Championships. The fans who flock annually to the grass mound near No.1 Court, popularly known as ‘Henman Hill’, will once again be the symbolic heart of the nation’s hopes of a British men’s singles champion. England may expect Henman to win Wimbledon, but the question is, can he deliver?