British No 1 still a contender

Tim Henman walked away from Flushing Meadows having lost a semi-final, but having gained such huge respect that I can't help but re-evaluate him. I thought that Tim was winding down his career. I don't mean he was on the verge of retirement, simply that I thought his chances of winning a Grand Slam had dwindled out.

Tim Henman walked away from Flushing Meadows having lost a semi-final, but having gained such huge respect that I can't help but re-evaluate him. I thought that Tim was winding down his career. I don't mean he was on the verge of retirement, simply that I thought his chances of winning a Grand Slam had dwindled out.

During this past fortnight, he's showed that isn't the case. He's playing as good as he's ever played and he's nowhere near the end of his career. That doesn't mean he can be expected to upstage the brilliant younger generation - and I mean the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt, all of them Slam winners by their early 20s. It does mean he can keep alive his dream of winning a Slam one day. The odds may not be in his favour because, realistically, he'll have to beat one or more of those younger guys to win any Slam. But odds are there to be defied. Challenges are there to be undertaken. The only question now is the extent of Henman's desire to keep on playing at a genuine contender's level.

To do that he needs to decide how hard he wants to work, physically, and I'm talking about gym work, perhaps as much as three hours every day. The only reason Andre Agassi is still playing at 34 is because he's working harder and longer than ever before in the gym.

The older you get, the more you need to work on lower body movement, dynamic power for the first step towards the ball, agility for sudden movement. Young men have a natural advantage. At 30, Henman is not a young man. The level of his commitment and the passion with which he answers "A lot" to the question "How much do I want this?" will determine whether he can continue the hard, hard work necessary to keep his dream alive.

The technical side of Tim's game is continuing to improve and that's why he's still one of the 10 best players in the world. Sure, he wasn't a match for Federer in Saturday's semi-final, and to be critical I'd say he didn't serve well enough and had minor imperfections elsewhere exploited by Federer's brilliance.

Specifically, when his first volleys weren't spot-on, Federer's passing was impeccable. And from the baseline Henman's forehand wasn't everything it could have been. But, on the plus side, Tim stuck to his game plan of attack, and intelligently mixed up his play, and executed some fine shots and good tennis. And although he went down with his plan, going down to Federer these days is no disgrace at all.

As Henman said afterwards, to really compete with Federer, it would be ideal to be a hybrid player with Roddick's serve, Agassi's returns, Henman's volleys and Hewitt's speed and tenacity. In other words, a player who excels in everything. In other words, a Federer, the only player in the world who excels in every aspect of the game.

Henman will never be Federer. But he can still be a contender.

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