Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Great moments in tennis No 7 - Henman's finest hour

From 1998 to 2004 Tim Henman reaching the semi's or quarters of Wimbledon was a given. It became a summer tradition. The problem for Henman was that after a year or two the public and media took it for granted.

They quickly forgot that for the previous 20 years the closest we'd come to a successful run at Wimbledon from a British tennis player was Jeremy Bates failing to convert a match point against Guy Forget in the 4th round.

Henman's success - lets not forget he was a top 10 player on and off for 7 years - created expectations that sadly he was unable to fulfill. The public willed him to win the tournament. Unfortunately for Henman his time in the game coincided with two of the all time greats, both masters on grass, Sampras and Federer.

This led to him being branded (unfairly) as an under achiever. Personally I think he took what he had and over achieved. But that's a debate for another time.

There were many highs and lows at SW19 but for me Henman's two greatest achievements both occurred in Paris - reaching the semi of the French in 2004 by serve volleying, and winning the indoor Masters event in 2003, one of the biggest events in tennis after the 4 Slams.

En route to the final of the Masters event Henman beat a string of world class players including world No 1's Kuerten, Roddick and Federer, plus Davydenko and Grosjean, dropping only one set.

The final itself was a tight, edgy affair, with Henman unable to reproduce the quality of tennis which swept him to the final. But he disproved those who claimed he lacked a killer instinct, by holding his nerve in two tie breaks, to beat Andrei Pavel 6-2, 7-6, 7-6.

I've searched Youtube but can't find any video footage from the Masters triumph - which tells you all you need to know about our failure in the UK to recognise that the tennis season extends beyond Queens and Wimbledon. But you can read the Guardian's match report for the final here

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