One attacking player who learned as much was Tim Henman, the progenitor of Henmania, a contagion that afflicts England each summer for a period never lasting longer than 12 days. The best bet to become England's first homegrown champion since Fred Perry in 1936, Henman (a.k.a. Our Tim) bears the weight of an entire country on his scrawny shoulders each year at Wimbledon. The day after Sampras and Agassi both lost in the second round, the headline in the Daily Mirror read NO PRESSURE, TIMBO, BUT CHOKE NOW AND WE'LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU. A few days later 13.1 million households, a BBC Wimbledon record, watched Henman's fourth-round win over Switzerland's Michel Kratochvil.
Henman is an unlikely object of so much attention. He has a fluid, aesthetically pleasing game and is at his best on grass, but he has never so much as reached a Grand Slam final. And though he is by all accounts a good bloke, Henman won't ever be confused with a matinee idol. Against Kratochvil he nearly became the first player ever to retire from a match because of...gas. At one point ATP trainer Bill Norris rubbed his stomach because, Norris said, "I thought a darned good fart would do him a bit of good."
Against Hewitt in the semifinals, Henman was neither flat nor (we assume) flatulent. He simply lost to a better player. Time and again he approached the net only to watch Hewitt's shots whistle past him. On other approaches Hewitt unspooled topspin lobs that landed inches inside the baseline. "Too good," Henman said repeatedly during the match. Afterward he conceded, "Right now, it's pretty obvious that Lleyton is setting the benchmark."
Hewitt's ascent is both a blessing and a curse for men's tennis. At a time when the men's game is mired in parity and too many top players are not bothered by hideous losses (red courtesy phone for Marat Safin), Hewitt is a reliable winner. Dating back to his victory at last year's U.S. Open, he has been a cut above the rest of the field. What's more, at 21 he has yet to enter his prime.
On the other hand, the men's game is hungry for a top player with charisma and charm, two qualities not generally ascribed to Hewitt. When not on the tennis caravan, he returns to Adelaide, where he still lives with his folks. Agassi had a private jet at 21; Hewitt doesn't even own a car. At Wimbledon he spent his downtime at his rented home near the All England Club, watching webcasts of his beloved Adelaide Crows "footy" team and lazing about with his girlfriend—Belgian tennis pro Kim Clijsters—and his best mate from home. "The celebrity stuff?" says Hewitt. "I don't have much use for that kind of thing."
Nor does Hewitt have much use for the "face time"—media obligations and corporate grip-and-grins—that goes with being a star. His handlers go to great lengths to minimize his time in the public eye. Frustrated by his inaccessibility, the Australian press has nicknamed him Satan Hewitt. "People see Lleyton on the court, and he's this competitive beast," says Aussie Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald. "But he's really just a normal kid, maybe a bit shy."
He didn't seem shy after he finished off Nalbandian the Andean. Hewitt fell flat on his back and then rose to climb into the players' box. The mask of fury he wore on the court had melted into a stunned smile. "As soon as the match was over, I just sort of went numb," he said. "I'm thinking, Wimbledon is over, and you won it."
Hewitt was still grinning broadly as he passed under the Centre Court doorway famously adorned with Kipling's lines, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same." Given what he endured to win one of the wackier Wimbledons in memory, other lines from the same poem seemed even more fitting: "If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs...you'll be a Man my son!"