Book of the Week: Duel for the Crown

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The Independent Online
Duel for the Crown

By Neil Harman Andre Deutsch pounds 14.99 hardback

THE CROWN in question is the Wimbledon men's singles title, and the duellists are Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski. If their timing is half as good as the author's, we can look forward to the coronation of Britain's first male champion since Fred Perry in 1936.

Neil Harman has spent the past year or so following the two heroes on the world tour. The result is a commendable chronicle of the story so far: Tim and Greg, born a year and an ocean apart, raise the flag on the centre courts of international locations where Britain was previously only represented by referees, umpires, line judges and sports journalists.

The narrative points up the contrasting personalities of Henman, a young man of classical style, as befits the son of a tennis-oriented Home Counties family, as English as rain at the All England Club, and the left-handed Rusedski, Canadian in all but passport, yet driven with a desire to win glory for himself and his adoptive country with the fastest serve ever recorded (149 mph).

Far from being an authorised biography, affording the writer access to the protagonists from breakfast to bedtime, the book is held together by initiative: astute observation, research, and interviews with the two players, their coaches, their peers and those close to them.

While Henman has been coached by David Felgate ever since his talent began to grow with his body, Rusedski has had numerous mentors. Some of the book's most revealing passages deal with Rusedski's split with Brian Teacher at the very moment the Californian had guided him to the 1997 United States Open final, and Rusedski's subsequent rift with Teacher's successor, Tony Pickard, during his abortive Wimbledon last year.

The smiling Rusedski's obdurate nature is tempered by a realistic appraisal of the situation he has chosen for himself. "Tim and I are both playing for the same country," he says. "We live in the same country, the rivalry is going to be there, that's the way life is. We are great for British tennis, I don't think there's any denying that. If I achieve what I want to achieve, I'll be very happy. If it means getting there ahead of Tim, I'll have to do that."

Many a page will be turned in the Wimbledon queues and, heaven forbid, during any rain delays.