Tennis: Wimbledon '99 - Foul weather frustrates Henman

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AS DISAPPOINTED spectators left a washed-out Wimbledon last night, Tim Henman and his coach, David Felgate, were preparing for a new day and a new challenge when play resumes today.

Henman, whose time on the Centre Court yesterday amounted to three shots in a warm-up, leads Jim Courier in their fourth round match by two sets to one and 4-3 in the fourth set, with the American serving at 30-15. "It's a totally new match," Felgate said. "The rest is just what's on the scoreboard."

The match is scheduled second on the Centre Court today, after a noon meeting between Boris Becker and Pat Rafter (Rafter takes priority because he is also due to play doubles).

Emphasising that the contest is finely balanced, Felgate said: "The first couple of points can make all the difference tomorrow. Both of them will come out be ready to go. It's a different match to the way it ended on Monday night."

Yesterday's high point came at 2.30pm, when Henman, the No 6 seed, and Courier, ranked No 61 in the world, stepped on the court. The visit was terminated within a minute when the rain returned.

Had a ball been struck in a match - either by Henman or Courier on the Centre Court or by Steffi Graf or her opponent, Kim Clijsters, on Court No 1 - there would have been no chance of a refund for the crowds who waited in the stands or roamed the grounds. As it is, the wet and the weary, who had paid from pounds 8 for ground admission to pounds 42 for a seat on the Centre Court, at least will be fully recompensed.

The players also spent a wasted day. "It's not new, and it's been much worse," Felgate said. "But it is frustrating for the players after we've had three weeks of good weather. When you know there's going to be bad weather at the start, you get a mindset. But the thought of rain hasn't been there. Even on Monday, it wasn't terrible. In essence, Tim played a full match. It's not like when Tim played [Magnus] Gustafsson [in 1996], when they were on and off the court four times. Tim and Jim only went out one time today."

Filling in the time can be a problem. Some players, such as Jana Novotna, the women's champion, have to resist the biscuits. Henman? "He was hanging out, talking and playing a bit of backgammon," Felgate said. "You certainly don't sit down and talk about the match. I think it's nice to be in a position where at least you're on first if there is a clear spell. The other players don't know when they will get on."

With the programme behind schedule, players are likely to be playing matches without a day between. "I'm only interested in tomorrow," Felgate said. "You can't look beyond that. It was unfortunate Tim and Jim had to come off on Monday night. It was a real duel between two guys playing their hearts out."

Felgate bridled slightly at suggestions that Henman loses concentration in certain service games. "There is such a thing as your opponent playing well and breaking you," Felgate said. "You've got no God-given right to hold serve. Tim is two sets to one up, and 4-3 up. I'm pretty happy with the way things are."

Asked if mind games are played in the locker-room, Felgate said: "It's not won in the locker-room. You go out and play hard. It's about how you hit the ball, not whether you stare your opponent down in the locker-room. You can't in any sport stay psyched up all day in the locker-room. The bell could ring in half an hour, and then you've got to switch on."

Wimbledon regulars indulged in nostalgia for a "golden age", that idyllic period from 1993 to 1995, when, during the nine weeks of the three Championships, including the qualifying event at Roehampton, the rain delays amounted to a total of one hour and 15 minutes.

In 1996 mixed weather during the first week was followed by rain on most days, causing the programme to be extended to the third Monday. In 1997 two days in the first week were completely lost to rain. Last year's tournament was interrupted by rain on several days during the first week and on the second Monday.

Stefan Edberg, who yesterday became the first recipient of the Jean Borotra Sportmanship Award, presented by the International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain, was well versed in rain delays during an illustrious career in which he won two Wimbledon singles titles.

"When I played Marc Rosset in 1991," Edberg recalls, "we were supposed to start at two o'clock on Monday, and we finished on Thursday. I was there from early morning till late evening four days in a row before we completed the match."

Dokic the assassin, page 29