Henman makes a perfect people's day

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The Independent Online
The British cocktail of People's Sunday and Henmania at Wimbledon yesterday produced an atmosphere which is sure to be enshrined in tennis history books forever.

It was, as one ecstatic fan put it, "People's Crowd Rule". "You'd never, ever get an atmosphere like this with the normal crowd," he added. "I've never seen anything like it - it could have been a final," said another.

The British number one and 14th seed kept the crowd on the edge of their seats during a thrilling match that took almost four hours as he battled it out with Dutchman Paul Haarhuis for a place in fourth round. The final 26-game set lasted 93 minutes before Heman finally broke his opponent's serve to win 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6 and 14-12 and hear a shamelessly partisan crowd erupt with applause.

As the game progressed, "real fans" reached for ever more colourful adjectives between chanting Henman's name at every break of play. Each ace, each line call, each double fault was cheered or booed as if it was the last. It was three hours and 58 minutes of pure theatre - and an encore for Henman would not have seemed out of place.

Every ticket holder in the house had been taken by surprise. There had been no guarantee that they would get into the grounds, let alone a Centre Court seat, the normal reserve of those prepared to pay large sums or enjoy corporate hospitality. They gave it all they had - and were amply rewarded. Any trace of the past weeks gloomy weather was eclipsed by their faces, everyone of which was wreathed in smiles.

Somehow, it would not really have mattered which way the match had finally gone. Whatever the outcome, Britain's sporting hero would have been bathed in patriotic applause. For "Timmy baby" could not put a foot wrong: after all, "there's only one Tim Henman" - unless, that is, you count Greg Rusedski, who also won through to the fourth round yesterday.

On only the second "People's Sunday" at Wimbledon in the tournament's 111-year history, many fans who entered the gate at 10am had queued for their tickets since dawn, paying just pounds 15 for the Centre and Number One Courts and pounds 5 for the rest of the grounds. All seat went on sale on a first-come first- served basis - although some lucky latecomers were able to snap up ticket for the Henman spectacle in a matter of minutes.