Bud Collins: This is the year for Henman to charge down the curse
Monday 21 June 2004
Saddle up, Tim. Sharpen your sabre. Attach spurs to your plimsoles - and think Balaclava and Causeway Heights! This is the year.
Whenever I think about Timothy Henry Henman (at least every June anyway), the Crimean War comes to mind, and I picture him as the latter-day, one-man Charge of the Light Brigade. Into the Valley of Centre Court he bursts: Roddick to the right of him, Hewitt to the left of him, Federer in front of him. Volleying and thundering. Stormed at with shots from hellish rackets.
Is he ever dismayed? Never. His not to reason why ... but to do or be hung out to dry. Again? If Tennyson were yet the Poet Laureate, don't you think he'd immortalise Tim as he did the Light Brigade? Charging gallantly, failing nobly. "Our Tim" nonetheless.
But not this year.
This, I believe, is the year that the 29-year-old, two-legged Light Brigade goes all the way. The year of the 150th anniversary of that devil-may-care Brigade's vain assault up Causeway Heights. The only time British veterans of a defeat were awarded medals.
Tim has their style and determination. Half-a-league onward, half-a-league onward, half-a-league onward - galloping through the draw into the grinning jaws of triumph. Slashing his rivals, silencing the cannons, maybe even disposing of a Russian or two as the storied Brigade did.
Had I been covering the Crimea in 1854, and a local bookmaker offered me an attractive price on the Light Brigade, I would have grabbed it for a few guineas. Hard for me to resist that kind of long-shot. Would I have had a good run for my money? Probably, that's why, six weeks ago, I asked a friend in London to put a modest sum for me on the Timmy Brigade. The price was 5-1. I had a feeling, an urge, a hunch, a premonition. And that, mind you, was before he won a DDC (Distinguished Dirtkicker's Cross) for his strong, unprecedented final-four finish at the French Open.
How many years has Tim been the Great Why Hope? Why hasn't he advanced beyond those four semi-finals? Because nobody got rid of the champions in his way: Sampras, Sampras, Ivanisevic, Hewitt. Why hasn't any man of English blood been able to dispel the Curse of Centre Court since Fred Perry waved goodbye in 1936? Why is it true that the English, who introduced the game as we know it in 1874, are no longer able to play it?
All these "whys" weigh on Tim's shoulders as though million of hard copies of Great Expectations. He can handle the load this time. This year it's "why not?". I remember Fred Perry wishing that he would live long enough to watch his homeboy successor take a victory lap around Centre Court. "No idea who it'll be," he said. "But it'll happen." He had faith. So do I. Fred gave up waiting nine years ago. He was 85. I'm eating an apple a day. Perhaps he'll catch Tim's championship on a celestial channel. Fred preached patience. After all, England had to wait a quarter-century for him to arrive powerfully and erase the curse of his day. The prior English champion male at the Big W had been 41-year-old Arthur Gore in 1909.
Still, this 68-year-old curse is a bit much, even for paragons of patience, wouldn't you say? All the more reason for the stars to be aligned and twinkling at Tim. Every curse wears out. Didn't an English pugilist actually win the world heavyweight championship Might Fred be putting in a word for Tim in the highest of places? Ever think of that? Whether God gives a damn about tennis, I also don't know. But blessed, supposedly, are the meek.
And who have been meeker than English guys since Fred wore the crown? No more, I'm telling you. This Light Brigade in short pants will serve and volley boldly, head held high with an upper lip stiffer than Falstaff at a pub. He'll drive the Henman Hillbillies to ecstasy, foes to departing flights and even the Queen (that horse-happy disdainer of tennis) to sneak a peek at Brigading Tim on her telly. Won't she one day tap him as Sir Tim of Wim? I see it happening. After all, strange things are occurring this year. The Sisters Sledgehammer (Venus and Serena) are vulnerable. The Brussels Sprouts (Clijsters and Henin-Hardin) are uprooted. The Gaucho, Gaudio, and the rag doll, Myskina, ruled Paris where Haenel, a household name not even in his own household, KO'd Agassi in the first round.
What better year for the Light Brigade redux to win this time around? I know what you're saying: "The bloody Yank is with the light-headed brigade and thinks it's Whim-bledon." Never mind, Tim. Just brandish that tightly strung sabre and ... charge!
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