WIMBLEDON, England -- A wild, joyous cheer went up on Centre Court and was repeated throughout the grounds of the All-England Club yesterday evening as word passed that Tim Henman, the last Englishman left in this Grand Slam tournament, had advanced to the quarterfinals -- a feat last accomplished by Roger Taylor in 1973.
"When I was little, I understood that Wimbledon was the biggest tournament in the world and I always enjoyed watching it," he said. "But it was always disappointing that the English players never advanced as far as everybody would have liked. I think that gave me an incentive to try and put things right."
Yesterday, on a purely English day, when rain interrupted his match four times, a huge rainbow appeared over the grounds. An omen, perhaps. Certainly, British tennis fans felt something special was happening as Henman advanced to the quarters with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson.
Henman will play the winner of the match between No. 13 seed Todd Martin and Thomas Johansson, which was called because of darkness with Martin leading, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Also gaining the quarterfinals yesterday were No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, a 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1 winner over Pat Rafter, and Jason Stoltenberg, a 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 victor over Jakob Hlasek.
The umbrella-carrying crowd, wrapped in woolen sweaters, raincoats and plastic for protection against the elements, which included, in addition to the rain, wind and cold, were constantly cheering for Henman.
"They were wonderful," said Henman. "Unbelievable. Even when I lost my serve at 6-5 in the third, they still picked me up again and willed me on to play a good tie-break. You know, even if you suddenly hit four terrible shots in a row, they make you forget about it quickly and get you on to the next game."
It might have been unpleasant to be on the other side of the net from Henman, but Gustafsson, a pleasant sort, found it inspiring.
"I was prepared for it and it was a great atmosphere," he said. "I liked it. I enjoyed it. I wish we had a Wimbledon in Sweden, so the crowd would cheer for me like that."
But Gustafsson was not crediting the crowd for Henman's win.
"The difference was that Tim just played better on the big points and I didn't play that well today -- because Tim, I think, wouldn't let me," he said.
Henman put on the pressure from the beginning. In the second game of the first set, he let everyone know this would not be a mediocre effort, as he hit an overhead shot that looked like a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook when the NBA legend was in his prime.
And in the third set, when Henman was broken for a 5-3 Gustafsson lead, he retained his cool. It is something he has learned since last year, when Wimbledon officials tossed him out of the tournament after a ball he hit in anger inadvertently struck a ball girl.
But this time, he was as cool as the 55-degree day, and showed the same strength of character in this fourth-round match as he had in the first round against No. 5 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
He simply broke back in the next game with a blistering forehand passing shot, held his own service game with a clinching ace and was suddenly serving for the match at 6-5.
It was only then, when he was down 15-40, that his nerves began to show.
"It's obviously not the ideal situation to be in," he said. "I think I'd ended up not really going for my first serve enough and then getting to the second serve and probably going for my second serve a little too much.
"I didn't quite get the right balance, you see. But, again, though I lost my serve, I was able to pick myself up and played another good tie-break. So, fortunately for me, it ended the right way."
Perhaps it is in the genes of this 21-year-old from Oxford, who looks young enough to still be in an English public school.
His great-grandmother, Ellen Stawell-Brown, who played her last match here in 1905, is credited as being the first woman to serve overhand on these lawns. And his grandfather, Henry Billington, got to the third round in 1948, 1950 and 1951.
"It may be that," he said, with a smile. "Or maybe it's that I just come from a sporting family. When I was little, we'd all get out in our garden and play. Whoever I was playing and whatever stage it was in the match, I made believe it was match point against a great champion and I was determined to win."
Gustafsson, 29, observed his youthful opponent's steady play, and decided he was no flash in the pan.
"He's a guy for the future," said Gustafsson. "Guys for the future, they have good nerves. You can tell that in his way outside the court and on the court.
"So it's just a matter of time until he'll get really good. One or two more years and you won't be surprised that he's in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon."
In fact, Gustafsson won't be surprised if Henman makes it to the final this year.
"If he plays Martin, the pressure is on Martin," Gustafsson said. "And then he can play relaxed and with the crowd and everything. It's a good chance. If he has to play [Goran] Ivanisevic or Sampras in the final, I don't think he wins. . . . But to reach the final, why not yes?"
Indeed, with Martin the only seeded player left in Henman's half of the draw, why not reach for the rainbow's end.
Pub Date: 7/02/96