Henman tries to keep up the impetus

YESTERDAY AT WIMBLEDON : Injury forces Becker to withdraw
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The Independent Online
It is argued that the event is bigger than any player, as was demonstrated in 1973, the year of the ATP boycott, when the leading men stayed away but the crowds did not. The theory may be about to be put to the test again.

Boris Becker was the latest major personality to fall yesterday, injury causing the three-times former champion to join Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg in a procession through the exit with the tournament only five days old.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the fifth seed and French Open champion, also disappeared early, but that counts as a bonus, Tim Henman's brilliant first-round victory against the Russian giving the British No 1 the impetus to drive on towards the fourth round.

Henman was on the brink of securing his place in the second week when rain interrupted play yesterday. He was leading his compatriot, Luke Milligan, 6-1, 6-3, 5-4 and was about to serve for the match. But whoever emerges victorious, any euphoria will be tempered by the injury to Becker.

The 28-year-old German, who was seeded to meet Pete Sampras, the defending champion, in a reprise of last year's final, retired after damaging his right wrist during his third-round match on Court No 1 against Neville Godwin, a South African qualifier ranked No 223 in the world. His withdrawal means there will be an unseeded semi-finalist for the first time since John McEnroe in 1992.

Becker hit a second service return wide off the frame on the opening point of a first set tie-break, dropped his racket, and grabbed his wrist in agony. The trainer bandaged the injury, but Becker abandoned the court after attempting a couple of practice swings.

"The second serve was sliding into my body, and I turned my body away and I hit the ball on the frame, very late, and the wrist gave way and I heard something go pop," Becker said. "I thought I had broken my wrist."

The trainer thinks that a piece of bone could be chipped off from the tendon.

His wife, Barbara, covered her face while Becker was receiving treatment, and his early departure was a disappointment for the five members of the German football team who had come to support him.

Becker, who won his sixth Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in January, missed the French Open because of a thigh injury. "I guess this one feels much worse," he said, "because I was one of the few who had a serious chance of winning the whole thing. I was playing great tennis, the draw didn't look too bad, and it's a very serious disappointment.

"An injury never comes at the right time, but if there's one tournament a year where I really would like to do well, it's Wimbledon. It's the highlight of my season, and I had as good a chance to win it this year as I've had in a long time."

Becker, who in 1985 became the youngest and only unseeded men's singles champion, aged 17, has experienced his greatest moments at the All England Club, along with some of the lower points of his career.

In 1984, playing his first Grand Slam event, he retired in his third- round match against the American Bill Scanlon after breaking an ankle.

Becker successfully defended the title in 1986 and won it again in 1989. But in 1987 he was defeated in the second round on Court No 1 by the Australian Peter Doohan. Apart from Doohan, and Goran Ivanisevic, who won their semi- final two years ago, every player who has beaten Becker since 1985 has gone on to win the title.

While that statistic might impress Godwin, he will do well to extend the record, even though the lower half of the draw is wide open. "He played a very good set," Becker acknowledged, "and he seems to have a pretty good feel for the ball.

Godwin had mixed emotions. "It feels great, obviously, to be in the fourth round at Wimbledon," he said. "It's something I'm sure any tennis player dreams of. But obviously it's not the way I would have liked to get there. I would have liked to win the match fair and square, but I guess these days you take what you can get."

Milligan made a nervous start to his match with Henman on the Centre Court. The 19-year-old from Middlesex lost the opening set in only 18 minutes, gleaning a mere nine points. Only two of those came off his opponent's serve, and one of those was a double-fault.

Although Henman continued to dominate, winning the second set in 29 minutes, some of his shots lacked his earlier timing, and Milligan gained the confidence to take a 2-0 lead in the third set.

The affects of consecutive marathon matches may have begun to exact a toll, however, and Henman had broken twice before play was suspended. He will be back to play for the fifth day in a row.

More reports, results, page 22