An email conversation with Tim Henman: 'Tennis has given me so much, so I wouldn't walk away from it'
Good few more years left to play despite bad back; Great foundations make Andy Murray's future big; British youngsters need higher levels of dedication; How pain of Ivanisevic defeat at Wimbledon grew
Monday 20 February 2006
You're in Rotterdam for the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament this week. When you look down the draw and see that it contains guys like Rafael Nadal and Marcos Baghdatis, both more than 10 years your junior, do you wonder whether you're getting a bit old for all this? It is pretty scary. There sure are plenty of guys coming up, but that's the challenge. They're the new generation and I need to keep developing my game to be able to compete. That hasn't been easy with the injuries I've had but just the other week in Zagreb, I was able to play some good tennis and string some wins together, so that was a good starting point and I want to build on that momentum in Rotterdam this week.
In common with Andre Agassi, you have a chronic back condition. Agassi, aged 35, has to schedule his run of tournaments with greater care, and you, at 31, have said you must do the same. How much are you likely to cut back? I don't necessarily have to cut back but I do have to be smart about when I play events because I have a condition that is degenerative. It's never going to actually get better and I'll never be able to say that it's "gone", but I can certainly manage it. That's something that Andre has done well over the years and I need to do it as well. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to play a pretty full schedule... Hopefully, I can keep playing for a good few years yet.
How realistic are your prospects of further success at Wimbledon? It's certainly getting harder, I can't deny that. I think that with the nature of my opponents and the nature of the surface, it's going to be a tough challenge. It's my favourite place to play, my favourite time of the year, and this year I've got to make sure I'm fit and healthy and then I've got to make sure that when I go on the court I'm really having fun, because that's when I play my best tennis.
If you'd been born 10 years earlier, when serve and volley was the only way to play on grass, how do you think you would have got on against the likes of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg? I'd still like to back myself and think I would have done all right, but when people compare generations and eras, you have to remember that those guys were greats of the game and they would have been great in any era. When you talk about the speed that Andy Roddick serves now, it is different to when Rod Laver was playing, but so much of that has to do with technology. Stick a graphite racket in Laver's hand when he was at the top of the game and he would still be right up there among the best, if not the best. I overlapped a bit with Becker and Edberg when they were winding down - never beat either of them! Would have been nice to have beaten Edberg, he was one of my heroes growing up.
Does Andy Murray have an ideal style and attitude for today's game? Absolutely. He's a modern day player for sure. What's fantastic is that he's so young - 18 - but he's got such a solid foundation. He's got a great serve, a great motion, a big forehand, good two-handed backhand, he understands the game well and he's comfortable coming to the net. So, the technical aspects are all in place. Now he has to learn more how to use those attributes, get used to playing at the highest level, gain experience and stay healthy. If all that happens, he's got a big future ahead of him. He has to go for what he believes in 100 per cent and not waste any opportunities, be it in the gym, on the practice court or on the match court. He also has to remember to enjoy himself.
Do you think the National Tennis Centre is necessary, or is it a waste of money? It's certainly a big investment. I think it's going to be a fantastic facility, but my opinion is that if you are going to have the best facility you want to have some really great people to run it - whether it's the coaching staff, the medical staff or in the gym. You need to have the expertise. If you've got all that in place then there will be no excuse for the players.
If there was one thing you could do to change British tennis, what would it be? We have so many examples of Russians and Argentinians and other nationalities that don't have the funding or facilities, but they still find a way to be world-class players at the top of the tree. How do they do that? They do it with unbelievable motivation, dedication and commitment to what they're doing. Sometimes I don't think our players have that. The Lawn Tennis Association have made mistakes over the years, I don't think they'll deny that, but I don't think it's fair to always blame them. You've got to look at the individuals.
Do you think your long-term career in tennis will be in administration, or in coaching? I would definitely like to still be involved in tennis in some way. It's been a massive part of my life. It's given me so much and I love it, so I wouldn't want to walk away from it. But I still don't really know in what capacity. Maybe I could be involved in a tournament like the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's or Wimbledon. Would I like to be involved in coaching? Perhaps. Would I like to be involved in the development of players at a younger age? Yes, those are all areas that interest me.
What has given you most satisfaction? In terms of an individual tournament, I would say winning the Masters Series tournament in Paris (in 2003) - that's the biggest event I've won and I beat players like Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Gustavo Kuerten to do it. But, even though Wimbledon has provided some of my biggest disappointments, I still look back at those matches and they will always hold a pretty special place in my heart.
What has been your biggest disappointment? In terms of an individual match, that Wimbledon semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic in 2001. It was such a bizarre, unique scenario to play a match of that importance over three days. To end up losing was very difficult to take, but it hurt more further down the road than on the day itself. On the Sunday itself we only played for 15 minutes and it was a massive anti-climax. I don't really know what I felt after I lost - obviously disappointment, but usually after a five-set match there is some big build-up of emotions - fatigue, drama, highs and lows, but because we only played four games, I got back to the locker-room and felt as if we had only just played the knock-up at the start! It was very strange. A couple of days later it was pretty depressing, I have to admit. I look back at that match and I think, "God, I'd do anything to have won it", but I also think, would I actually have done anything different if I had my time again? No. It didn't go my way in the end, but I can hold my head high and know that over the three days I played as well as I could and it wasn't good enough.
Having grown up in a tennis-playing family, would you be disappointed if your daughters do not share your enthusiasm for the sport or do not show an aptitude for it? Not at all. There are so many positive aspects to my career - I've loved playing tennis, it's my hobby, it's been my dream to be a professional tennis player, so I can't deny that there have been a massive amount of positives. When I look at my children, part of me says yes, what a fantastic opportunity and if that's what they're into, they should go for it. But, there's another part of me that says. 'Just do something normal!' But really, it's just whatever makes them happy. If they wanted to do it, I'd be right behind them, but at the same time if they wanted to do something totally different, for instance if they wanted to be a journalist, I'd say, 'Don't do it!' Ha ha!
Tim Henman will take on Greg Rusedski, Rafael Nadal and Marcos Baghdatis at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam this week. Follow the action at www.abnamrowtt.nl and watch the quarter-finals onwards on Sky Sports Extra from Friday at 10am.
Attachment: The Tim Henman lowdown
* 1974 Born 6 Sept, Oxford. Grandfather, Henry Billington, competed at Wimbledon and great-grandmother, Ellen Stawell Brown, was first woman to serve overarm at Wimbledon in 1901. Began playing tennis before the age of three.
* 1983 Finalist in short tennis tournament for under-nines. Won Oxfordshire Under-10 singles.
* 1985-1991 Member of David Lloyd Slater squad which backed a number of young British tennis prospects.
* 1992 Won National Junior titles in singles and doubles.
* 1993 Became a professional and reached quarter-final at Bristol Challenger, but then broke leg in three places.
* 1994 Entered world top 200 despite having been out of the game for four months.
* 1995 Disqualified after ball struck in frustration hit a ball-girl during Wimbledon doubles.
* 1996 Won Olympic silver medal in doubles with Neil Broad.
* 1998 Reached first of four Wimbledon semi-finals - the first male Briton to advance so far since Roger Taylor in 1973.
* 2003 Won Washington and Paris titles. Awarded OBE in New Year's Honours List.
* 2004 Reaches semi-finals of French Open and US Open ending year at world No 6 - his fifth top 10 finish in seven years.
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