Henman just doesn't have what it takes to win WimbledonPosted: Tuesday July 02, 2002 8:08 PM
Updated: Tuesday July 02, 2002 8:09 PM
Tim Henman has not made life easy for himself this Wimbledon.
Prior to the tournament, word spread through the United Kingdom that the stars were aligning in Henman's favor. This year, after all, is the Queen's Golden Jubilee -- her 50th anniversary on the throne.
It's also been 25 years since Virginia Wade became the last British player to win the singles here.
Unfortunately for Henman, none of this has anything to do with winning tennis matches.
His past two have been painstaking crucibles, including a four-set tussle with Wayne Ferreira that tilted on who would crumble first. Then came a comeback effort versus Michel Kratochvil, punctuated by Henman squandering a lead in the third and falling prey to an upset stomach.
Thanks heavily to Kratochvil's ineptitude, Henman pulled it out.
How to explain Henman's Wimbledon woes? He's now in the quarters for the sixth time, but invariably his game seems to let him down in the later stages.
Is it his emotional makeup? Is he too nice? This year, under the tutelage of Larry Stefanki, he's been trying to show more emotion and work harder at intimidating his opponents in the manner of a netrushing Boris Becker or John McEnroe.
The goal of this emotional jumpstart is to make him a more fluid player, like a silky Stefan Edberg or a swashbuckling Patrick Rafter. But all that doesn't seem to take. There's a gap between Henman's desires and assets, a sense that he's been raised so properly and taught to play perhaps too well. Watching his form, I wish when he'd been a junior he'd told one of his instructors, "to heck with your way, I'm doing it my way."
But instead, he obeyed, which makes him a good person but, alas, lacking the pathological absorption of a champion -- as well as the risk-taking qualities that would make him a dangerous opponent. As three-time Wimbledon champ John Newcombe once told me, "Your tactical mission is to plant seeds of doubt in your opponent's head, to let him know you've got something in reserve."
Henman lacks that creativity. On a surface where a little Silicon Valley garage-style innovation is required (hello, Xavier Malisse), he's Fortune 500, a Euro exec bringing his briefcase to the court and a business plan tucked inside the proper pocket.
Stefanki, raised walking distance away from where Apple Computer started, brims with the spirit of enterprise. Nowhere is Henman's repression more revealing than on his serve, where he's intentionally reduced his speed -- and often paid the price.
On the other hand, his motion is so structured that it's hard to see him ever getting big-time speed, so why bother missing first serves? He's in between a rock and a hard place, and it ain't going to get easier.
I figure he'll get past Andre Sa -- something ridiculous like 7-5 in the fourth -- but then, versus Lleyton Hewitt, the dream will end. Sorry.