Tim Henman, from Oxford, became the first Britishman for 23 years to advance to the last eight of the world's most prestigious championships.
Only last Wednesday, in the pulsating game against Germany, the nation felt that frisson which comes with the excitement of almost winning.
But progress in tennis is the stuff of long-forgotten dreams. Fred Perry, 60 years ago, was the last Briton to win the men's singles.The 21-year- old Henman was not born when Roger Taylor, from Yorkshire, reached the quarter-finals in 1973. That was the year of the boycott by most of the leading men because of a dispute involving the Yugoslav Nikki Pilic and the International Tennis Federation.
Yesterday, Henman succeeded in the fourth round against Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6. It was the fifth consecutive year that a Briton had reached the last 16. Jeremy Bates was unable to overcome the Frenchman Guy Forget on two occasions, and Andrew Foster and Greg Rusedski had to face the American Pete Sampras.
Henman's parents, Tony and Jane Henman, watched the closing points and then celebrated their son's victory with his coach, David Felgate, and Bill Knight, the Lawn Tennis Association's retired training manager. A year ago, they had all consoled the youngster when he became the first player ever to be disqualified at Wimbledon after a ballgirl was struck in the head by a ball he hit in frustration.
Henman returned to ignite the tournament last week by eliminating the Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the No 5 seed and French Open champion. He then defeated two British compatriots, Danny Sapsford and Luke Milligan.
For much of yesterday it seemed that the rain would defeat Henman and a packed Centre Court, which included knots of supporters with painted faces and Union Jack bandanas. The players paid five visits to the court before completing the opening set - on the first occasion not even having time to play the customary five-minute warm up before the rain arrived. Henman gave a cool, mature performance of grass-court tennis, serving and volleying his way to success.
Starved of success for all these years, the nation now waits to see if Henman can claim victory for Britain at Wimbledon, that most British of institutions. He plays either the American Todd Martin, seeded No 13 and the only seed remaining in the lower half of the draw, or Thomas Johansson, another Swede.
No wonder the crowd were singing - to the tune of Three Lions: "It's coming home, it's coming home."
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