The farther they go, the harder it gets, otherwise it would not be the most coveted prize in tennis. In Henman's case Monday brings a duel with the American Jim Courier for a place in the quarter-finals; a reprise on the lawns of their epic Davis Cup duel at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena at Easter. Rusedski will renew his rivalry with Australia's Mark Philippoussis, another mighty server, whom he defeated, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3, with only one break of serve, in the first round in 1997.
Henman has advanced to the fourth round for the fourth consecutive year. The No 6 seed had to produce some of his most impressive tennis on the Centre Court yesterday to beat his French opponent, Sebastien Grosjean, 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, after two hours and 47 minutes. Courier, unseeded, but never to be underestimated, battled for four and a half hours on Court No 3 before overcoming the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, 13-11 in the fifth set.
The winner on Monday will meet either Karol Kucera, of Slovakia, the No 13 seed, or the unseeded Cedric Pioline, of France, who lost to Pete Sampras in the 1997 final, after eliminating Rusedski in the quarters. Pioline advanced to the fourth round yesterday at the expense of Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Australian Open champion and No 3 seed, who retired at 6-3, 4-6, 0-1 because of a hamstring injury.
Rusedski, seeded No 9, served 21 aces, one at 142 mph, in defeating Sweden's Magnus Norman 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 in the third round after an hour and 49 minutes. Neither Rusedski nor Philippoussis needs reminding that Pete Sampras, the five times champion, is likely to be waiting in the quarter-finals.
Courier may have had the longest match yesterday, but Henman put the British supporters through another test of the emotions. His performance began swimmingly, but perhaps he noticed that the actor Richard Dreyfus, of Jaws fame, was in the audience.
The opening set disappeared in only 30 minutes, a blur of Henman in full flow. Grosjean, wearing his cap back-to-front, kept the sun from the back of his neck, but was scorched by Henman's confident strokes.
Henman did not drop a point in his first two service games, and in between capitalised on his first break point, luring Grosjean into hitting a backhand drive long for 2-0. An angled forehand volley by the Briton put Grosjean in trouble again and the Frenchman delivered a backhand long to go 0-4 down after only 13 minutes. Grosjean avoided a whitewash by holding serve for 1-5 before Henman secured the set with a service winner.
As the crowd began to settle back, as comfortable with Henman's play as the man himself, what followed was typically Henman, a lapse in concentration leaving him 0-2 down. Grosjean found a line with a forehand lob to 15- 30, Henman missed a forehand volley to 15-40, and then double-faulted, twice finding the net. There was a delayed reaction, both from the umpire, who was late calling "Game, Grosjean", and from the spectators, who perhaps had been lulled into a false sense of their hero's security.
Henman immediately took steps to reassure his followers, recovering the break in the third game and cracking Grosjean a second time, for 5-4. When serving for the set, however, Henman's game creaked again. A cramped backhand volley landed over the baseline. That was followed by a double- fault. And Henman let a Grosjean forehand return go by, only to see it land on the baseline for 0-40.
Grosjean netted a forehand volley on the first break point, and Henman put paid to the second with an ace timed at 131 mph. But on the third opportunity Grosjean returned a second serve and Henman dumped a backhand approach into the net. In the tie-break, Henman was unable to convert his first set point, on his opponent's serve, netting a forehand. Grosjean created his first set point at 6-7, on Henman's serve. Henman saved it with a forehand drive volley. Henman missed his second set point with a backhand drive and netted a forehand on Grosjean's second opportunity, losing the shoot-out 8-10.
Those who began to wonder if that was to be the prelude to a disappointing elimination underestimated Henman's athleticism and resolve. "After losing the second set, there was a momentum swing," he said. "It was very important for me to come through that." He did, although the points continued to be closely contested.
Henman regained the initiative in the third set, breaking for 4-2. With the crowd roaring their support, Henman continued to edge the Frenchman on the crucial points in the fourth set, breaking for 2-1 and consolidating his position with a second break for 5-2.
Serving for the match, Henman treated us to some spectacular action, intercepting Grosjean's best efforts to survive at 30-0, concluding a breathtaking point with a forehand volley. On match point Grosjean could hardly believe that his backhand half-volley had landed wide. Henman had already turned, arms aloft, to acknowledge the cheers.
Rusedski left the court to similar acclaim as shadows began to replace the dazzle of the sun. Like Henman, he started his match in splendid form, holding serve in the opening game in 55 seconds, and finishing the set with four aces (134 mph, 138 mph, 134 mph and 131 mph), after 28 minutes.
He broke Norman in the opening game of the second set, and continued to dominate until Norman sensed that he was becoming impatient to finish the job from 2-0 in the third set. The Swede made him work for it. "I was fortunate to get through in straight sets," Rusedski said. "I'm going to go home and prepare to face some bullets [from Philippoussis] on Monday."
Wimbledon reports and results, pages 30 and 31