Henman on high

Tennis
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The Independent Online
Given that the nation is berating itself for the lack of success in the centennial Olympics it is something of a paradox that tennis, which has been a joke for half a century, should pop up and provide Britain with a medal.

British men's tennis has had such a great cumulus over it for so long that it seemed incredible that Atlanta might provide a break. But Neil Broad and Tim Henman have proved that even this cloud has a silver lining.

True, they were outplayed in the final of the men's doubles at Stone Mountain Park but going down to Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde is acceptable at the best of times, never mind with a partnership who were barely on nodding terms when they arrived three weeks ago.

"I'd never have guessed we would be playing for gold," Broad, a doubles specialist, said after the 6-4 6-4 6-2 defeat, "and obviously it's disappointing not to have won. But if someone had offered us the silver at the start of the tournament we'd have taken it."

Broad and Henman had played together before, but neither regarded it as a particularly rewarding experience, and they lost their Davis Cup tie to Slovakia. A look at the draw and the presence of the second seeds, Canada's Grant Connell and Daniel Nestor, as second-round opponents did not bode well.

Having disposed of them in three sets, however, they built up a momentum that carried them to the final. "Broady has been working on the fitness part of his game," Woodforde said, "and Tim is a young guy who's got a bright future. I think both of them came here on a high. There's a bit of youth and an old guy and that goes a long way."

The difference, Woodforde said, is that he and Woodbridge had been together since 1991, collecting the last four Wimbledon titles on the way. "I think if it had ever got tight we'd have come out on top because we'd been playing together a bit longer," he said.

As it turned out it never got even remotely tight. Under a vicious sun, Broad was broken in the first two sets and the British spirit was damaged. The third set became a mismatch.

Even so Henman has now reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and an Olympic final in the last two months. "They are subtly different from each other," he said. "At Wimbledon, you are very much an individual but here you are aware you are playing for your country. It's been a valuable experience and one I'd want to sample again.

"We lost to the best doubles partnership in the world; there's no disgrace in that. A silver medal is great. They will still be celebrating in Oxford and London tonight. I view it as a major step forward in my career."

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