Henman's reasons to be cheerful
By Tom Fordyce
It's not often that a man who has just lost a major final can walk away with a smile on his face.
But Tim Henman's defeat by Roger Federer in the Pacific Life Open has left the British number one in the most buoyant of moods.
Eight months ago, Henman had slipped out of the world's top 30.
A combination of his advancing years, the rise of a new generation of rivals and lingering concerns about his shoulder injury seemed to be pointing towards a gradual slide from the top of the game.
But Henman himself remained bullish while the doubts mounted. And now, despite defeat at Indian Wells, it is becoming clear why he was so confident.
Reaching Sunday's final has moved him up to eighth in the world rankings.
He is seventh in the ATP Champions Race, which is based solely on results this year.
And his tennis is reaching a standard that he has only approached on a couple of occasions in his entire career.
On the evidence of the last five months, Henman is now capable of playing consistently at a standard that he could only reach intermittently in the past.
He was always able to match the best on occasion. Now, for the first time, his concentration and consistency do not seem so likely to waver when it really matters.
Until the defeat by Federer, Henman had won his last 11 ATP Masters Series matches, including a comeback from match-point down against Andy Roddick.
Not only has his shoulder appeared pain-free, but his all-round game has been exuding an edge and - dare you say it, authority - that was only hinted at in years past.
"Against Tim, it's just a different game overall because he keeps coming at you," says Federer. "You cannot actually find that rhythm from the baseline that you're looking for.
"You feel like you're going to hit the normal backhand, then suddenly he's standing at the net hitting a volley.
"That makes you look at the ball and on the other side of the net to see where Tim is standing. It makes it extremely difficult."
Henman has always insisted that he would hit his playing peak at a much later age than his peers.
But even he must be surprised by just how well things have gone since a first-round defeat at the US Open last September.
Much of the credit must go to Paul Annacone, Pete Sampras' former coach, who has helped revitalise Henman after his split from previous coach Larry Stefanki.
"Paul has had a big impact on my game," says Henman.
"He knows the work we have been doing. As I said after I won the Masters in Paris, I didn't want that (win) to become the exception. It should become the norm to play like that."
There is only one player who can feel more content than Henman this week - and that is Federer himself.
The Wimbledon champion is no longer a maverick might-be. He is now the dominant force in men's tennis.
Federer has won his last five ATP finals (Indian Wells, Dubai, Australian Open, Tennis Masters Cup, Vienna), and has a win-loss record of 22-1 in 2004. He lost just one set at Indian Wells and now leads the Champions Race by 221 points from second-placed Marat Safin.
"I feel like now there's not many guys left who have really an edge on me," he admitted on Sunday.
Henman is one of the very few who can still approach a clash with Federer with optimism. Even taking into account Sunday's loss, he has beaten Federer in six of their eight meetings.
Intriguingly, he has had most success against the Swiss when they have been playing on faster surfaces where the bounce has been a touch uneven.
And that can only bode well on the grass of Wimbledon this summer.
Story from BBC SPORT:
Re: Happy Henman
Snarky article but for once, the British press is laying off of Tim and giving him some respect. :eek:
Henman's success leaves egg on faces
Mar 26 2004
By David Prior, Daily Post
I'M CONFUSED. Sue Barker isn't on the telly. There isn't a hill full of whooping students with large letters on their T-shirts. And we're most certainly not in the south London monsoon season - you know, the one that lasts a fortnight every June.
And yet Tim Henman appears to be playing tennis.
Hard to believe, I know, so I'd better elaborate. Last weekend I was sifting through the 73 available satellite sport channels - live chariot-racing from Devon, the Premier-ship's Greatest Off-The-Ball Incidents, that sort of thing - when on to the screen came a sight I was quite unprepared for.
Henman playing - and Henman winning. In March. And not only that, but on a surface that at first glance didn't seem to rely on regular watering.
Come arn! he shouted, just like he does at Wimbledon, following up with that fist-pump that looks more like he's trying to de-yolk an egg with one hand.
Yes, it really was him, and before long he was reaching across the net to matily slap a handshake on his defeated opponent. Henman wins outside of SW19 - there was a time British players received the MBE for that.
I'm being facetious, of course. The Tim Henman of 2004 is far from the spindly chap we've come to know and commiserate with every June.
I'm also being inaccurate. He lost. Or at least he did once Roger Federer had uncovered the mysteries of beating Oxford's finest, the world number one having lost six of their seven meetings up until last weekend.
But wait - this wasn't another of those occasions where Henman caught sight of the trophy and immediately fainted.
Whereas in previous years games against the world's elite players would leave Henman's shorts in urgent need of a thorough Persiling, he now appears capable of beating, well, anyone. Because so far this year, he just about has.
Eight months ago, Henman had slipped out of the world's top 30 and was destined it seemed for a gradual lowering into the Question Of Sport captain's chair.
But until the defeat at the Pacific Life Open by Federer, Henman had won his last 11 ATP Masters Series matches, including a comeback from match-point down against America's almighty server Andy Roddick.
Perhaps it's time to readdress the whole Henman conundrum.
OK, so he's not the world's most charismatic performer. He's no Agassi or McEnroe or even, come to think of it, a Bates.
Outside of Wimbledon, that time every year when his name changes to Tim Henmania, he's never likely to win the nation's hearts. The boy who became very good at tennis after practising on the tennis court in his well-off parents' back garden is unlikely to have Hollywood moguls out-bidding each other for the film rights.
Maybe if Wimbledon watchers had a greater array of home talent to bellow at then Henman would have been overtaken by a racier model, a sort of Ronnie O'Sullivan to his Stephen Hendry.
But in the bottomless void that is our emerging British talent, it looks like we're stuck with him.
Maybe, if this early-season winning-games business is anything to go by, that isn't such a bad thing after all.
So let's here it for the new, winning, Henman. Eggs at the ready, come arn!
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