At Wimbledon, empire strikes back Henman wins a page in Brit success story

June 26, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- Sitting in the players' box, coach David Felgate was just about as miserable as they come. His player, Tim Henman, had more or less choked after taking a two-set lead over No. 5 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov and was down a break in the fifth set. So Felgate did the logical thing. He started thinking about what he and Henman were going to have to start working on to improve his game.

"Frankly," said Felgate, "I thought Wimbledon was over."

But Wimbledon was not over. The full house that raptly watched Henman at Centre Court refused to let it be over.

The fans had sat, as if chained to their seats, for nearly 3 1/2 hours. In that time, they saw Henman, England's No. 1 player, take his two-set lead, waste three break points in the third set, get wiped out in a tiebreaker, lose the fourth set and get broken in the first game of the fifth.

And in the ninth game of that last set, it would get even worse before it got better. Henman faced two match points. He fought them off with back-to-back aces. Then the crowd's boisterous support and his own will earned him consecutive breaks and a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 7-5 victory.

"Losing double match point, I feel a little bit frustrated," said Kafelnikov, the French Open champion. "But I think we played a pretty entertaining match. I just couldn't put it away and Tim did. He'll be a British hero tomorrow."

Henman, the 20-year-old who was tossed out of Wimbledon last year for hitting a ball in anger that accidentally struck a ball girl, gained the second round. He will play fellow Brit Danny Sapsford on Court No. 1 today.

"It sort of all turned around very quickly," said Henman, who is ranked 62nd in the world. "You know, I had opportunities in the third at 0-40 on his serve and 0-40 in the fourth and I couldn't take advantage. I could kind of feel the pressure was on me and when I couldn't get to the finish line, self-doubt started to creep in. . . .

"But finally, in the fifth, I saved those two match points and then the crowd was absolutely phenomenal. They were a great help. And then I started taking my chances because I felt I had nothing to lose and I was able to get those two breaks to win. I may not be showing it, but I'm awfully happy. It's just that it kind of turned all at once."

The same might be said of English sport, in general, making one wonder if, perhaps, God really is an Englishman. How else to explain what has been going on in this country of late?

The country is awash in an athletic euphoria of unbelievable proportions. The English soccer team, not given a chance in the European championships, is in the semifinals tonight against Germany. And seven of 10 English players have advanced to the second round at Wimbledon.

As far as tennis goes, it's the first time in 20 years that has happened.

"This is absolutely brilliant," said England's Greg Rusedski, who advanced yesterday with a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Daniel Nestor of Canada.

"With Tim going through, that equals our best ever performance in the modern era. Maybe it's the football that's inspiring us. Who knows? But we've all got such a positive attitude right now. We all want to do well and we all want to prove who is the best British player."

Joining Henman and Rusedski in celebrating yesterday were Mark Petchey, a 1-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) winner over Leander Paes; Luke Milligan, playing his first match here, who turned in a stunning, 4-6, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Jonas Bjorkman, and Sapsford, who had failed to win a match in four previous Wimbledon first-round singles tries, five qualifying attempts and two appearances in the junior competition, but won yesterday over Peter Tramacchi, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.

Chris Wilkinson and Colin Beecher advanced Monday.

"This win exorcises the Wimbledon demon," Sapsford said after his victory. "I was thinking about quitting tennis . . . but this makes all the hard work worthwhile, and there is a great feeling in British men's tennis at the moment."

Felgate, who besides coaching Henman manages the English men's team's physical training, can vouch for that.

"This has been a [fine] effort," said Felgate. "Tim, you could see him grow today. You could see he was self-possessed and at the end he was able to make the big play."

Seeds of upset

Only three of the top eight men's seeds are alive after first-round play at Wimbledon, an open-era record:

Advanced

Seed .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .... ..How

1. Pete Sampras .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..def. Richey

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...Reneberg in 4 sets

2. Boris Becker .. .. .. .. .. .def. Jean-Philippe

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Fleurian in 3 sets

4. Goran Ivanisevic .. .. .. ....def. David Nainkin

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...in 3 sets

Out

3. Andre Agassi .. .. .. .. .. ..lost to Doug Flach

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..in 4 sets

5. Yevgeny Kafelnikov .. .. .. ..lost to Tim Henman

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...in 5 sets

6. Michael Chang .. .. .. .. lost to Alberto Costa

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . in 4 sets

7. Thomas Muster .. .. .. .. ...withdrew because of

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...thigh injury

8. Jim Courier .. .. .. .. ..lost to Jonathan Stark

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...in 4 sets

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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