Posted: Thursday June 23, 2005 5:35PM; Updated: Thursday June 23, 2005 5:35PM
British fan favorite Tim Henman lost a five-set heartbreaker to Dmitry Tursunov on Thursday.
But that was before she knew the extent of her defeat. At 6-0, 3-0 in the second, Sharapova felt it necessary to save Karatantcheva's dignity since she couldn't do so herself, losing that one game on purpose so as not to deal out the dreaded double-bagel. Then, pleased with her charitable act, she proceeded to humiliate her opponent further by telling the worldwide press afterward. "I know how it feels to lose 0-0, and it's not a good feeling," Sharapova laughed. "So I just let it go."
Told of Sharapova's words, Karatantcheva's eyes widened. "In that case, I'd prefer I lost 6-0, 6-0," she said. "I don't take a feet-up off anybody."
But then, she didn't have a choice, did she? For the moment, Sharapova is in control of her game, her career and herself, her concentration at the point where she can actually give her opponent a game and giggle. On her side of the draw now, only the Williams sisters loom as a serious threat. In other years, that might give her pause. But they seem, well, distracted.
GOODBYE, MR. HENMAN
For the first time in a decade, Wimbledon will run into its second week without Tim Henman. The 30-year-old serve-and-volleyer lost to Dmitry Tursunov 3-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 on Thursday, and on the BBC and throughout the British Isles, the obituaries began: Henman's run is over. He'll never win Wimbledon. He is done. Within hours, in fact, Henman had been cruelly replaced; Scottish phenom Andrew Murray instantly, conveniently, filled the gap of British longing with a stirring and emphatic three-set win over the 14th-seeded Radek Stepanek. And right then, you could actually feel the swing of sentiment, 60 million Brits washing their hands of the man who was never quite good enough.
It has been a curious thing, coming to Wimbledon for the last 10 years and hearing the Brits "whinging" about Henman. Despite the public displays of affection, he was never truly loved by the British public; he lacked soccer god Paul Gascoigne's beery emotionalism and David Beckham's simple grace, and there was always too much a whiff of the upper-class twit about Henman for him to be embraced by the masses.
Plenty has been written about his lack of appeal by British sportswriters: He was too dull, he didn't bare his soul, he had schoolboy hair. But there was something more to it, I think; to many Brits, Henman served as a reflection of Great Britain's reduced stature on the world stage. He could play with anybody, but was overshadowed in London by the greatest player of all; if Tony Blair was Bush's lapdog, Henman was the pocket Pete Sampras, and his taking on ex-Sampras coach Paul Annacone didn't help matters. In the end, he was too British and too second-rate at the same time. Nobody ever called him a symbol for Cool Britannia.
Yet, the fact is, Henman was everything you could want from an athlete but great. With the ultimate pressure on, with all of Britain on his back, he played his best tennis year after year, making the Wimbledon semifinals four times. You can make a very good and ironic argument that the All-England Club proved his biggest nemesis; in 2001, Henman led Goran Ivanisevic two sets to one in the semifinal when play was suspended too early because of rain; an hour and a half of sunshine ensued, but he lost his momentum and, two days later, the match. In recent years, the club has slowed down the balls and the surface, undermining his attacking game; no player, in fact, has been hurt more by Wimbledon's efforts to stay relevant.
Yet it will be years before Henman is fully appreciated. "Because he hasn't won it, it seems he's been downsized," Tursunov said after. "I think he's done very well and he hasn't gotten enough respect from media -- at least in this country."
Here, then, a bit of respect from across the pond. Henmania is dead. Long live Henmania.
MATCH TO WATCH
Justin Gimelstob vs. Lleyton Hewitt, Centre Court. Mr. Come AWWWWN! vs. New Jersey's best, pumped full of cortisone, chest-pounding pride and amazement he's even playing. If it's close, nothing else this week will be able to beat it for pure spectacle. If Gimelstob wins, he won't stop talking until Christmas.