Henman Nails Nalbandian
by Barry Newcombe
Tim Henman's dream of becoming the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the Wimbledon title, survived its most formidable challenge of this year's Championships on the Centre Court this evening.
Henman beat last year's finalist David Nalbandian of Argentina 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 6-3 in three hours and one minute. The match gripped the packed crowd in the Centre Court and thousands more watching on large screen television outside.
Nalbandian presented Henman with his most demanding match of the tournament. At the start of the second week, having played a lucky loser and two qualifiers, Henman had to knuckle down against a player who had learned so much about himself and how to tackle Wimbledon last year.
But Henman was ready for every aspect of the match, perhaps knowing that this was a critical pointer for him to answer, especially as second seed Andre Agassi went out of the tournament earlier in the rain-hit day.
Nalbandian lost his serve eleven times. It is a statistic which will hang over the 21-year-old Argentine until he next wins a big match in a Grand Slam. Equally it will inspire Henman as the final stages of Wimbledon grips the players and makes fresh demands. Henman will play either Sebastien Grosjean of France or Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in the quarter final round.
When Henman won the first set so quickly and cleanly against Nalbandian his path to the quarter finally looked clearcut. He had taken Nalbandian's service twice, had been emphatic with his own serving and it was as good a start as he could have asked for as the first set was gained in 32 minutes.
But things changed in the second set. Nalbandian reduced the pace of his serve and Henman, by degrees, lost some of his early confidence. When Henman gained a break in the fourth game but was himself broken immediately and missed two break points in the sixth game it was a statement of change.
Henman survived a break point in the ninth game. But in the tie break Nalbandian took a 5-3 lead when a winning service return came off the frame of his racket. A lob gave Nalbandian two set points and he won the tie break on the first.
At set all after 89 minutes, the match was evenly balanced. But after Nalbandian led 3-2 in the third set, there were six successive breaks of serve before Henman finally held to take the set and a key lead. He went to set point with his fifth ace in a record speed of 126 mph. And a volley winner clinched the set.
Passionately supported, Henman headed for victory with an immediate break of serve at the start of the fourth set but he lost that advantage in the fourth game. Henman too, was under pressure to hold serve but he managed it in the sixth game and when he took Nalbandian to love to lead 4-3 most of the pressure and many of the doubts were now at Nalbandian's end of the court.
Serving at 5-3 behind, Nalbandian missed two ground strokes to go two match points down. But he saved those, forcing Henman to gain a third and then Nalbandian missed a forehand to send the Centre Court crowd roaring in acclamation.
good luck in the next round timmy!!!