Henman riled by 'appalling' calling
By Clive White
Tim Henman has not had too many reasons over the years to dispute the outcome of his matches against Lleyton Hewitt. Until they met in Key Biscayne this year, the combative little Australian had "owned" the British No1, as eight wins out of eight would testify. But yesterday, in the semi-finals of the Stella Artois Championships, Henman had every right to feel aggrieved about the result, which was clearly the consequence of some quite dreadful line-calling.
Hawkeye revealed to BBC television viewers - the Queen's Club does not as yet use the system for the benefit of the umpire - showed that there were at least six bad calls, five of them against Henman. The critical call was at 2-1 to Henman in the deciding set, when having recovered two of three break points against him, a shot from the Briton was first called in by the linesman and then, when Hewitt protested, called out. After that Henman lost the next six games - and the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 - and, needless to say, his composure.
Game for a laugh: Tim Henman enjoys a lighter moment during his defeat to Lleyton Hewitt
Typically, though, he kept a stiff upper lip during the press conference, declining to say too much other than to describe the line-calling as "appalling". He was, however, rather more forthcoming to the supervisor Thomas Karlberg, whom he asked to speak to during the course of the match, which is not common practice, though Henman revealed he had done it twice in successive tournaments in Paris. BBC microphones overheard him telling Karlberg that Chris Bailey had indicated to him by sign language from the commentary box that the calls were bad. Henman was heard to ask Karlberg: "Are you saying they're lying to me?"
It was a rum deal, no mistake, but there was a positive side to the afternoon for Henman: his form going into his 13th Wimbledon. Could this be the lucky one? Henman had played well all week, but he had never hit quite the heights he did during the latter stages of the second set and the start of the third - and against a player of Hewitt's standing. And like so many matches it all seemed to turn on one small incident, when, at 3-2 to Henman in the second set, a defensive lob from him landed smack on the top of the net-cord and dropped like a stone on Hewitt's side. The Australian just managed to reach it but netted an intended drop shot.
It led to Henman securing his first break points of the match, which he duly converted. Thereafter for five games he played like an angel. Hewitt was a virtual bystander. Even when the No 8 seed hit a forehand winner down the line in answer to a smash, provoking his first "Come on" of the match it failed to disturb Henman's momentum.
''It's been a fantastic week," said Henman. "It gives me a great foundation to build from for next week's practice and obviously Wimbledon. I think it's fair to say that there's going to be a lot of people that, given the way I'm playing, given the environment at Wimbledon, with the support that I've always had, I'm sure they'll be looking to avoid me, and that's something that I've got to use to my advantage."
For once Henman was actually serve and volleying as though he believed in it. It's the only way he can play because when he stayed back in the first set he was no match for Hewitt. It took him just 25 minutes to drop his first set of the week, during which he managed to win just two points on the Hewitt serve.
It's a pity because the three-time runner-up here would probably have fancied his chances against James Blake, the surprise 7-5, 6-4 winner against the three-time defending champion Andy Roddick in the other semi. He had won their only meeting in Toronto four years ago.
Blake has clearly managed to carry over his good form on clay to grass. The big-hitter from Yonkers, New York, who has an English mother, gave Roddick a taste of his own medicine with returns to match the Texan's serves, which were twice recorded at 147mph.