Henman leads British charge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A year ago today, Tim Henman was in disgrace, the first player ever to be disqualified at Wimbledon. This morning he is a national hero, having eliminated Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the fifth seed and French Open champion, in a magnificent contest on the Centre Court yesterday.

One shot hit in anger which struck a ball-girl ended Henman's participation 12 months ago. Yesterday, the 21-year-old from Oxford displayed his full range of strokes and also showed tremendous character in overcoming the Russian, 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5 after 3hr 36min.

The triumph capped a splendid two days for the British men, seven of whom have advanced to the second round, a number last achieved 20 years ago. Henman was joined yesterday by Greg Rusedski, Mark Petchey, Danny Sapsford and Luke Milligan, as well as Chris Wilkinson and Colin Beecher, who had successfully negotiated the opening day. One is guaranteed to make further progress, Sapsford being Henman's next opponent on No 1 Court.

There were moments in Henman's match yesterday when he seemed about to wrap things up in straight sets. But Kafelnikov survived three break points at 3-3 in the third set, and then proceeded to make life most uncomfortable for Britain's No 1.

Indeed, when it came down to the fifth set, Henman appeared to be on the verge of adding his name to the great British near misses on the world's most famous court.

Trailing 3-5, he saved two match points - both of them with aces. Kafelnikov then double-faulted to present Henman with a couple of break points in the next game, and the Briton devoured the first with a confident forehand down the line.

Henman saved a break point in the 11th game with a winning serve, and reached match point in the next game by outrallying his opponent. And when it came to the crunch for the Russian, Henman lured him into netting a backhand.

"Until you've played in front of a Centre Court crowd you can't understand what it's like," Henman said. "It was phenomenal. They were always behind me, not just when I was two sets up but also when Kafelnikov was on top. They hung in there for me, and that's one of the reasons why I was able to turn things round in the end."

Kafelnikov, who wore a support on his left knee from mid-way through the opening set, said the ongoing injury was not the reason for his defeat.

"I'm sure Tim will be much more confident after today's match, because he lost the match once," he said. "He has got a pretty solid game. It is good enough that he can win a couple more matches. I don't know about him and the seeded players, but of the others, he is the most dangerous."

He added: "He's in the same position I was playing Pete Sampras in Australia a couple of years ago. I was enjoying myself, just like Tim was today."

Rusedski revealed that he had almost missed the tournament. "I didn't know whether I was going to be playing, because I put my hip out of joint in Nottingham," he said. "I felt it on Saturday, and then on Sunday morning I woke up and almost couldn't get out of bed. Fortunately my physio managed to put me together again."

The British No 2 was fit enough to overcome the challenge of Daniel Nestor, a 23-year-old Canadian qualifier who was born in Belgrade, 7-6, 7-6, 6- 2. "We've always had close matches," Rudedski said. "I just felt very confident because I knew that if I got into a tie-break I could manage a win with the British support."

It was Milligan's first win other than in satellite events. The 19-year- old from Muswell Hill, Middlesex, ranked No 278, had not previously competed at the All England Club, but he was able to hold his nerve after slipping two sets to one down to defeat the Swedish Davis Cup player, Jonas Bjorkman, 4-6, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.

"Once the first set was over, the novelty of being here for the first time and everything wore off a bit," he said. "I played a very good second set. He upped his game a lot in the third set, and the third and fourth were very tight, but I came out with a few good shots on important points, which swung it my way."

Inexperience did threaten to unsettle Milligan when it came to closing the match out. "I was very nervous in my last service game especially, but a couple of people who were watching said I didn't look it, so I must have hidden it pretty well." Milligan now plays Nicolas Lapentti, from Ecuador, ranked 192 places above him at No 86.

Sapsford also marked a breakthrough with his victory against Peter Tramacchi, an Australian qualifier, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. "I've played four main draws and five qualifying and two juniors and it's the first singles match I've won at Wimbledon, so I feel as if I've exorcised a demon today."

The 27-year-old from Weybridge, Surrey, who is ranked No 195, stopped playing and tried coaching for nine months in 1992, until a sponsor helped finance his return to the tour.

Petchey's win against Paes, a lucky loser, was a source of particular satisfaction, the Indian being one of a list of players who have defeated the Essex man in Davis Cup ties. Their only previous meeting was in a dead rubber in the World Group qualifying round in New Delhi in 1992, Paes winning, 6-2, 6-4.

Yesterday, Petchey created his first match point at 5-4 in the fourth set before being taken to a tie-break. He then saved five set points before converting his fourth match point, 13-11.

More reports and results, page 5