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Old 03-29-2006, 10:41 PM   #11
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Default Re: Henman & Sampras, England vs USA.

Tennis


The Times
March 29, 2006



Henman running out of options
From Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent, in Key Biscayne, Florida



IT IS inconceivable that anyone in tennis does not have a soft spot for Tim Henman. The problem is that he has tended to have soft spots for too many of his fellow men. How else is it possible to explain a result that led sober and rational judges here to suggest that he should quit on the spot?

For the eighth time in his career — starting in the Davis Cup against Sébastien Graeff, of Monaco, in 1995 and latterly in the second round of the 2004 French Open against Lars Burgsmüller, of Germany — Henman won a first set 6-0, but he had never previously gone on to lose the match. Which makes the events on Monday so extraordinary and the emotions it provoked so understandable.



Boris Becker, who brought his family to the night session to watch Roger Federer demolish Tommy Haas, needed the story telling twice before he would believe it.

With defeat by Simon Greul, a German qualifier, in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open, Henman landed between a rock and a hard place. His stock cannot fall any lower, although his ranking will tumble from its present No 56, and that is the nub. Henman has gone on record as saying that he will not trail around in the sixties or seventies; his pride is too deep for that.

The clay-court season is around the corner, all those baseline bashers lining up to run Henman and his ilk into the ground. Where to go? What to play? Would the 31-year-old benefit, as Andre Agassi is trying to do this year, from dropping clay from his schedule to get mind and body in shape for a last roll of the grass-court dice? Henman needs competition, but he cannot tolerate too many more early-round defeats or he will continue to sink. And what benefit can that have?

Questions, questions. Rationale has never been easy in Henman’s case — a brilliant player who has never played in a grand-slam final; a natural talent challenged by an unnatural world; the epitome of consistency (no player on the tour today has spent a longer period in the top ten than he) who is so unfailingly inconsistent.

As he contrived to do himself out of another victory, there was no shortage of those ready to call time on his career.

Trenchant opinions are hard to dislodge. “Were those same people saying he was back after beating [Marat] Safin and [Lleyton] Hewitt back to back?” Paul Annacone, his coach, said. “I heard it for two years working with Pete [Sampras]. The great treasure of the sport is, you never know. It is what makes it challenging. But no, I don’t believe Tim’s time is up.” And Annacone, although not always travelling with Henman, would not waste his time if he thought that the cause was lost. He has distanced himself from rumours that Andy Roddick has been on the phone asking for him to knock his game back into shape.

Henman will not do it, of course, but perhaps he should get right back on the horse, extend a hand to Jeremy Bates, the Great Britain captain, and return to the Davis Cup in Scotland next week (before which Andy Murray is scheduled to have a precautionary scan on his injured ankle today). The atmosphere could have an invigorating effect.

What looms is hope rather than expectation. “I suppose, in hindsight, the whole year so far has been a bit of wishful thinking, but I do have days when I put together tennis and practices that really leave me hopeful of winning. Then I go out there for a series of days and I’m less than ordinary. It’s not easy for me to care this much about it and find myself this frustrated as well as less than my best.”

That was Agassi on Saturday. It could just as well have been Henman on Monday.
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