Chris Maume - Sport on Television: Remember, Tim, there's more to life than SW19

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The Independent Online

According to the World Population Clock on the US Bureau of the Census website, there are, as I write, 6,302,999,283 people on Planet Earth. Which means that according to the current world rankings, Tim Henman can play tennis better than 6,302,999,254 of them.

Actually, in the few minutes it's taken to write this and do the sums, the population's risen to 6,303,000,544, but you get my drift. Leave the lad alone. He will probably never win Wimbledon. I'll probably never win the Pulitzer Prize. But I'll get over it, and so should you.

Boris Becker, speaking from beneath the world's most extraordinary hairdo, stated the Henman case with simple clarity on the BBC following Sebastien Grosjean's quarter-final victory on Thursday: "He's doing the best he can," he said, "and you can't blame him."

Exactly. You can't blame Henman for the fact that along with The Canadian he has been the light at the end of a very long time tunnel. Fred Perry would surely be proud of him rather than be top-spinning in his grave. Yesterday (BBC2), Becker underlined the central problem. "He shouldn't be thinking about winning Wimbledon," he said. "He should think about how to improve as a player."

Quite so. There is life beyond London SW19. In Britain, we imagine The Championship to be an albatross for Henman, overshadowing his every step. In fact, the albatross is our burden, not his. The weight is on our shoulders, the excess baggage being our absurd notion that the worth of a nation is somehow bound up with its fortunes in selected sporting arenas (i.e. football, rugby, cricket, tennis: no other sport is required to symbolise the national character). In the current demotic, we should all get a life.

Like Mark Philippoussis's dad. On Thursday, as Henman was going out, Philippoussis was knocking out another English-born player, Sandy Popp - as he's almost certainly not known to family and friends - on his way through to tomorrow's final.

Afterwards, the absolutely massive Australian talked about overcoming the three knee operations he underwent within 14 months that left him sitting in a wheelchair contemplating the doctors' verdict that he probably wouldn't be playing much tennis again. His father, he explained, was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. That was five or six years ago, and he's now cancer-free. It was all the inspiration his son needed, all the perspective he could handle. Clearly, the Lance Armstrong effect (conquer cancer, win the Tour de France) can work at one remove as well.

Tomorrow, barring anything untoward occurring overnight, Mr Philippoussis will be alive and well, and so will Tim Henman. What was it Becker said after he'd lost as defending champion in the second round to Peter Doohan in 1987? "I didn't lose a war. Nobody died." And Henman didn't suddenly become a bad tennis player on Thursday.

On Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? (Thursday, BBC2), Anne Robinson interrogated Norwich City director Delia Smith as to her ideal dinner guests. The programme's transmission time, 11.30pm, suggests it's not been a ratings smash, and for all Robinson's supposed "edge", it was mostly dull stuff. But one of her guests, the celebrity Norwich fan Stephen Fry, was featured in a chat-show clip telling a great Winston Churchill story.

He was woken one morning by an underling who nervously informed him a junior minister had been caught in St James' Park with a guardsman. Sir Winston thought for a moment.

"It was bloody cold last night, wasn't it?" he asked.

"Indeed, sir, I'm told it was the coldest February night for 17 years." Sir Winston thought some more.

"It makes you proud to be British," he said.

By the way, the population of the world is now 6,303,041,367...