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« First Rites Seeing Red »
The Long Goodbye
Posted 06/27/2007 @ 3 :19 PM

2007_06_26_henman_blog Today the British public gets ready to say goodbye to a public figure that has represented and defined them to the outside world for over a decade, all the while generating mixed feelings at home.

He stepped into the public arena with much promise and fanfare, promising to revitalize a nation’s flagging performance. But he could never quite live up to the expectation he generated, and one big failure haunts him. Though he’s defended himself, the words have rung hollow in the face of an increasingly grim reality. People went so far as to anticipate his departure: here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

But now, at the eleventh hour, he has one last chance to salvage his reputation.

I’m talking about Tony Blair, of course – who were you thinking of?

Still, as Blair goes off to try his hand as special envoy to the Middle East, Tim Henman might have taken something away from the sendoff given to the Prime Minister. Blair, an avid tennis player, timed his departure well in one respect – he’s now free to attend the second week of Wimbledon, much like his notorious svengali Alastair Campbell did a few years ago when he left the political life.

The cameras were camped outside Blair’s doorway at 10 Downing Street, and the surreal sight of the Prime Minister’s exercise bike being loaded onto the moving van greeted late risers who switched on the TV Wednesday morning.

“When I woke up the televised the moving van was literally pulling up, and they followed the moving van down the street when he’s moving his crap out,” said Roddick. “I watched about ten minutes of the aerial shot of the moving van coming down the street. I thought that was, um, enthralling.”

But all the piquant unsentimentality of the occasion showed itself most clearly in recorded goodbye messages shown on the BBC’s political programme later in the morning. The one or two gushing ones were in the minority.

“Goodbye, Tony. I’d like to say that I knew you well. Alas, I didn’t.”

”I voted for you in 1997, but we’ve kind of parted ways since then... Still, good luck with your properties or whatever else...”

“Goodbye, Mr. Blair. Shame you didn’t leave sooner.”

They don’t mince their words around here, as Henman well knows. Is there any more famous headline in tennis than “No pressure, Timbo, but choke now and we’ll never forgive you”?

And perhaps they never will forgive him, but the lack of a fairytale ending doesn’t obscure what a riveting read his Wimbledon career makes. His overall winning percentage at the event is 77 percent, compared to 64 percent overall. He’s now played 12 five-setters here, the latest a 13-11 in the fifth thriller against Moya that was suspended overnight at 5-5 and finally finished on Tuesday. It brought back memories of the famous 2001 semifinal against Goran Ivanisevic that was played over three days. In retrospect, that was the closest he came to reaching the final Sunday.

But it brought back other memories too – the shocking struggle against Jarrko Nieminen in the first round in 2005, followed by a replay last year against Robin Soderling. A mighty 9-7 in the fifth battle in 1997 against Jim Courier, another master of the Wimbledon five-setter. And his first on-court burst into prominence in 1996, when he blew a two set lead against Yevgeny Kafelnikov before pulling it out in five.

Even in that long list, the win over Moya ranks as an important one. During the previous two years, Henman had played very much in the shadow of Andy Murray – an obsolete model left chugging until its newer, snazzier successor was fully installed. This time, Murray is out with an injured wrist and Henman, for the first time in a long time, came through against an opponent he wasn’t entirely supposed to beat. The tiny possibility of a Jimmy Connors-like run has expanded slightly.

The tennis was only sometimes great, but the jagged points and mounting tension gave the contest an operatic quality that left a good portion of the country drained and trembling.

It’s not over yet, of course – there’s the second round to play, if the rain ever stops, and he’s a long way from saying this is his last Wimbledon. [Later: As we now know, Henman lost his second round match to Feliciano Lopez in yet another five-setter 7-6(3), 7-6(5), 3-6, 2-6, 6-1.] But it does help ensure that no one will bid Henman farewell with, “Shame you didn’t leave earlier.”

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Great post. It's incredible to watch the British (on the newly-renamed Henman Hill) be so riled up with a first-round win, but no doubt 13-11 in the fifth deserved some of that excitement. Can Tiger Tim keep it going?

Belated thanks, Kamakshi. As a local I have nothing but respect for Tim's achievements at Wimbledon, and being there in person to see the conclusion of his match on Centre Court yesterday was quite a moving experience - I mean, I've watched him since his early days at the tournament, including his famous five-set win over Kafelnikov in 1996. Tim is one of those players who, for me, has worked hard to get the best out of his natural abilities. During his glory years at Wimbledon, he had a habit of being beaten by the eventual Champion - Pete Sampras - and then of course that wrenching semifinal loss against Goran, that could have gone the other way without the rain.

I think Tim still remains the British public's sentimental favourite. Rusedski, being Canadian, never quite achieved that aura, and Murray, being Scottish, still has work to do, popular though he is.

If Murray ever wins Wimbledon, I bet the "Brits" (including those who often decry being "British") will warm up to him really fast.

Great Blair references/quotes there Kamakshi - funny stuff. Forgot you were across the pond or I wouldn't have emailed you a few days back - enjoy yourself in London!

this post is a joke, i have been to wimbeldon many times, there was nothing like "henmania" the real british fans love henman, he ran into sampras or federer nearly on all his runs at wimbeldon, i did not see many if any beat sampras or federer in the same time period... henman is a great player who has just not won a slam, he has stayed in the the top 40 ranked players in the world for 11 years up until last year, no other player playing today can say that, only some loser nutes in the press were telling henman to get out early, the british people love him, murray ?? please if the wind blows to hard he would get injured, he is weak with no heart+ a big mouth, the british people will never care about him, even if won 10 wimby's.....

Very good emotional article.
Finally, hope dies last.

Sally; calm down.I know what you are saying.Tim has always had class and game.What folks wouldn't know if they hadn't grown up in England is that the public itself has always highly respected Tim.Its the media who have tried to beat him down.
They had their own story going which had nothing to do with Tim's accomplishments and abilities.They would talk him up then put him down when he didn't bear out their talk.The British media are very cruel with sports champions (e.g. David Beckham).The British public knows this and takes the whole thing with a grain of salt.You can bet that many were very pleased to see Henman beat Moya and prove the press idiots for suggesting he retire.He's still more popular by far than Murray in Britain.Mostly because Murray is such a drama queen,and has far from proven himself.I like Tim's balanced attitude and humour and I thought his oldies game with Moya was great,lots of good shot making and suspense.

As we saw in the Lopez match- Tim plays with his heart and has given the British public every penny worth of entertainment over the years. Thanks for the article - much appreciated.

anna..... calm down ??? you agreed with everything i said...i said the press+ media was the problem like the no talent writer who wrote this post trying to connect henman with blair just to get headlines...... sally.. ny..

sally - sorry to say this - but dont think you quite understood the piece.

Yes it was a nice piece. I've great respect for Tim. It's a shame some of the respondents to this post felt they had to put Murray down to put Tim up. Tim is a personification of the home counties, middle England, typical tennis player/fan in Britain which is partly why he is so popular because people can relate to him easily. This is fine. (He's also popular because he's been a great tennis player, has a great sense of humour, been a great devotee of Davis Cup and has conducted himself wonderfully under the pressure of a success sarved public).

But it's precisely also the reason why other people hit out at Tim because he embodies everything they dislike about British tennis. ie. classist, insular, - He had a tennis court in his garden growing up. , the stiff upper lip which seems a throwback to another time.

And Ros, "Murray, being Scottish, has a bit of work to do" Well, I hope the Doctor can give him a cream for this affliction. Although, I doubt whether Murray gives a toss. What does he care? Tennis aint a popularity contest. Thankfully, unlike our dear Prime Minister he doesn't have to make himself liked or try and hide his Scottishness in an effort to appease Middle-England in order to win.

henman is the man

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