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Henman Has to Deal With Role

Tennis: Britain's best hope to win Wimbledon is actually declared favorite by the British oddsmakers.

June 23, 2002|KRYSTYNA RUDZKI | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WIMBLEDON, England — For the past five years, Tim Henman has been Britain's best hope to win Wimbledon. This year, he's gone one step better--he's the favorite.

British bookmaker William Hill has Henman as the clear 7-2 favorite to win his first Grand Slam title and become the first British man to lift the Wimbledon trophy since Fred Perry in 1936.

The player who sparks a wave of "Henmania" around the country each June for the tournament nicknamed "Timbledon" in Britain is seeded No. 4 for the grass-court major that starts Monday.

Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and No. 3 Andre Agassi are listed as second co-favorites at 5-1.

Henman is primed to overturn his heartbreak of last year when he lost a four-set semifinal against eventual champion Goran Ivansevic--a rain-delayed match that took three days to complete.

Henman, 27, has often been criticized for failing to fulfill his potential on grass, the best surface for his traditional serve and volley style. He reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1996 and 1997, the semifinals the following two years and the fourth round in 2000.

The furthest Henman has reached in any other Grand Slam event is the fourth round--the U.S. Open (1996 and 1998) and Australian Open (2000 and 2001).

"My desire to win Wimbledon can't get any greater," Henman said after losing to Xavier Malisse in the second round of last month's French Open. "That's always been the ultimate goal for me."

Former three-time Wimbledon winner John McEnroe has often cited Henman as a probable champion. So has Boris Becker.

"I think Tim is one of a handful of serious contenders to win Wimbledon," said Becker, also a former three-time champion.

"Though he hasn't won it yet, he is awfully close, and I think when his playing days are over he will have won it at least once."

Henman might also have history on his side. The last time a British player, Virginia Wade, won a Wimbledon singles title was in 1977--during celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth II's 25 years on the throne. This year's tournament coincides with the queen's 50th jubilee.

Henman was also the beneficiary of a very favorable draw. He's in the far easier top half, away from No. 2 Marat Safin, Agassi, No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and seven-time winner Pete Sampras.

Henman will play qualifiers in the first two rounds and should have clear sailing to the quarterfinals, where he could face Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, seeded No. 8.

Henman is projected to face his greatest challenge in the semis--Hewitt. The Australian has a 5-0 record over Henman since 2000, including wins in the last two Queen's Club finals.

Typically, Henman is playing down his chances.

"Many are saying it's inevitable," Henman said. "But it was probably only four months ago they were saying I couldn't play. Now I'm guaranteed to be champion at Wimbledon!

"I don't think you can achieve what I have achieved without having talent and I will always go out on to the court and give 100 percent. The main question is: 'Will that be good enough?' "

Last April, Henman split with longtime coach and friend David Felgate after nine years. After playing Wimbledon without a coach, he hired American Larry Stefanki--who has worked with John McEnroe and Kafelnikov--and his game has improved.

"The things we started to work on only came to fruition at the beginning of the year," Henman said at the Queen's tournament. "Larry has definitely had an impact on my game, which has come a long way in six months. Though we haven't quite been together for 12 months, I know I'm a better player going into Wimbledon."

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