A British class match on centre court

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The Independent Online
English hope and triumphalism, sunk in north London on Wednesday night, resurfaced in the south west of the capital yesterday. After more than half a century of British famine two home-grown male players walked out on to the Centre Court at Wimbledon, their very presence making redundant the old joke "If they're British it can only be the opening day".

The differing backgrounds of the two contestants, Tim Henman and Luke Milligan, is a partial success for the Lawn Tennis Association's struggle to attempt to drag their sport out of the safety of the suburban middle classes.

One LTA official, delighted at seeing two Brits centre stage on one of the world's great showcourts, said: "They've been looking for another Fred Perry for 50 years. There's been a few Busters, the odd Jeremy, a Roger or two but no Freds."

Henman, 21, as his coach David Felgate believes, "is the genuine article". Wimbledon '96 will take him into the world's top 50.

In tennis terms Henman is a pedigree prospect. His great-grandmother, Ellen Stawell-Brown, was the first woman to serve overarm at Wimbledon, last playing in the women's doubles in 1905. His grandfather, Henry Billington, reached the third round of the men's singles in 1948, 1950 and 1951.

Junior Wimbledon was a regular venue for three of his children including Jane, Tim Henman's mother, herself regarded as a talented young player.

From the privileged surroundings of Oxford's elite Dragon School, to boarding at Reeds public school in Cobham, Surrey as part of a tennis scholarship, Henman has all the credentials of a would-be Fred Perry.

Luke Milligan, 19 and ranked 278 in the world has, on the other hand, the background that tennis seemed once to ignore.

At the age of 10 Milligan began playing the game at Our Lady of Muswell Hill school club, in north London. He is a product of comprehensive education, a fan of Tottenham Hotspur and a devotee of the music of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. To relax he plays the drums loudly. But according to Nick Imison of the LTA: "He came out of the blue to win the under-16 national title."

Unlike Henman, there is no mention of tennis in Milligan's family tree. His father Jim is a London taxi driver and before this week his son's highest pay cheque was pounds 2,000 (Henman's total is more than $300,000). Even losing in the third round guarantees pounds 15,900.

After success in the nationals Milligan left school to concentrate on his tennis.

The contrasting backgrounds of Henman and Milligan have stirred the memories of the elderly in tennis's inner sanctum.

One said: "Remember, Fred Perry's initial fame was playing table tennis. He was the son of a northern Labour MP, not very privileged. The toffs at the All England Club didn't like him that much. Nor him them."

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