Henman falls short of final again

Hopes for British champ dashed as top seed Hewitt rolls with straight-set win

Wimbledon

July 06, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - Maybe next year.

There's always that when you're the great British hope, Tim Henman, chasing the ghost of Fred Perry, carrying a country's tennis fortunes on slender shoulders and boundless desire.

He's good, just not good enough. Nice instead of nasty. The best active British player never to win his country's great tennis championship.

Yesterday, Henman entered his fourth Wimbledon semifinals in his annual bid to become the first British man to claim the title since Perry in 1936.

And Henman lost.

Again.

Just like when Pete Sampras beat him twice on the road to two titles. Just like Goran Ivanisevic on last year's road to redemption and a title.

And now, it's Australia's Lleyton Hewitt who hopes to take the Henman road to the Wimbledon title.

Hewitt, No. 1 in the world, crushed Henman, 7-5, 6-1, 7-5.

Rain couldn't help Henman. Changing tactics couldn't save him. And the partisan Centre Court crowd couldn't lift him.

"You can't say it gets any easier," Henman said after his latest semifinal defeat.

Nor does it get much better for Hewitt, who will play in his first Wimbledon final tomorrow against either Belgium's Xavier Malisse and Argentina's David Nalbandian. Their semifinal match was taking on an epic quality, tied at two sets as darkness draped the All England Club.

The fifth set is set for today.

Nalbandian won the first two sets 7-6 (2), 6-4, before Malisse stormed back to win the third set, 6-1, and the fourth, 6-2. After the first-set tiebreaker Malisse had trouble breathing, suffered from dizzy spells and left the court for an extended period. But he came back, and eventually recovered his strength after an extended rain delay.

Whoever survives the match, though, will have to face Hewitt, the world's best player, who still can't quite fathom how far he has come at Wimbledon.

"I don't think it has really sunk in just yet," Hewitt said. "But, wow, it's an incredible feeling."

Whenever Henman broke his serve, he broke right back, including at 5-all in the third set after he cracked under the strain of trying to serve out the match.

When Henman tried to pin him to the baseline with junk, he threw it right back. And when Henman tried to serve and volley, Hewitt passed him with alarming accuracy.

And it all ended with perfection, one last ace that brought the Centre Court crowd to its feet in salute of Henman and appreciation of Hewitt.

"I got support when I hit a great shot or whatever - but not as much as Tim - but that's understandable," Hewitt said.

The Centre Court crowd is still growing accustomed to Hewitt. So is the sport, still trying to figure out if this 21-year-old king is more than a one- or two-season wonder.

"I'm not worried about trying to prove myself the No. 1 player in the world rankings," Hewitt said. "Couldn't give a stuff about it."

He's in it for the major titles - winning last year's U.S. Open, aiming for this year's Wimbledon.

"It's what every Australian kid who picks up a tennis racket dreams of, to one day be in this situation," Hewitt said, recalling watching at home as a child when Australia's Pat Cash won Wimbledon in 1987. "For me to have it at the moment at the age of 21 is incredible."

At 27, Henman is still in search of that first Wimbledon final. His losses here are something of an annual rite of summer.

Racing at Ascot.

Rowing at Henley.

Henman losing at Wimbledon.

This one really hurt, though.

Henman couldn't help but look ahead to a final against a survivor from the other half of the men's draw, which was decimated by upsets.

This was perhaps Henman's last best chance to win Wimbledon. In past years, on Wimbledon's fast courts, he was taken out by hard servers Sampras and Ivanisevic. So what happened in the year the big servers quickly disappeared? The courts were slowed down with a dash of clay at the base, enabling the baseliners like Hewitt to thrive.

"I'm always going to give it my best shot," Henman said. "As soon as I don't enter the tournament, then you'll know that I don't believe I can win anymore."

He didn't vow to win it, just to keep on trying.

And the British, it seems, won't stop cheering for him. Thousands of them showed up at the All England Club's picnic area, dubbed Henman Hill, to watch the match on a big-screen television.

"Yeah, they've been incredible," Henman said. "They are certainly part of the reason why I'll keep coming back for as long as I feel I can win, because the support here is incredible. It's second to none."

In a country accustomed to great sporting defeats, disappointment mixed with resignation in a crowd that sensed Hewitt had too much talent, too much heart and too much the measure of Henman's game.

It was another Wimbledon where Henman Hill became Heartbreak Ridge.

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