Centre Court open to offers

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The Independent Online

Until today, it would have been easier for Goran Ivanisevic and the Williams sisters to pass through the eye of a needle, hand in hand, than for a member of the public to buy a match against Tim Henman on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Now the opportunity will go to the highest bidder, starting at £25,000, with the proceeds to be donated to Henman's charity, Kids at Heart.

The auction is part of Henman's 2001 Tee Party, a celebrity golf tournament and dinner at Stoke Park Golf Club, Buckinghamshire, next Tuesday. The inaugural event last year raised more than £180,000 without the Wimbledon prize.

Those not attending the event have the option of bidding on Henman's official website – www.TimHenman.org – until 6pm next Monday.

Playing on Centre Court is not even guaranteed with membership of the All England Club. One of the rare occasions anybody other than competitors in the Championships gets to hit on the hallowed grass is when a social doubles match is played by women members on the Saturday before the tournament begins.

Pete Sampras's racket stringer, Nate Ferguson, was not even allowed to be photographed with the great champion on Centre Court last year because he was not a member, while Boris Becker's former coach, Bob Brett, was once ordered to stop practising with his client on one of the outside courts for the same reason.

But it seems that the custodians of the court have a soft spot for Henman. Explaining why Centre Court would be made available to Henman and A N Other on 10 July 2002, Tim Phillips, the Wimbledon chairman, said: "In this exceptional instance, given Tim's contribution to charity, his record at Wimbledon and the fact that he is the British No 1, we were happy to support his request on a one-off basis."