Goodbye... and hello for Britain's sporting heroes

Tim Henman bows out as Jonny Wilkinson makes a comeback. Cole Moreton pays tribute to Britain's winners and losers
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The Independent Online

That's it then. No more fist pumping, no more nerve-jangling tie-breaks, no more desperate shouts of "Come on Tim!" Tim Henman, the best British tennis player of his generation, ended his career yesterday in a fitting way: with a drawn-out, emotionally exhausting match at Wimbledon, where his repeated but doomed attempts to become champion over the years captured the support and sympathy of the nation.

But if Tim was going, at least Jonny was back. Even as the tennis reached its slow climax, across the Channel in France the England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson returned to action.

Four years ago his thrilling last-minute kick won the World Cup for England – but a series of injuries meant he had played very little rugby at all since then. Wilkinson rejoined a side struggling to retain its title at this year's tournament, having been hammered 32-0 in the last game.

England had to work hard against Samoa yesterday but eventually won 44-22. The returning hero came through without getting hurt, and scored his 1,000th point in international rugby on the way.

Far away in China another England side was living up to the highest Henman-like standards of heroic failure. The women's football players were in the quarter-finals of their own World Cup, playing well against the USA. They lost 3-0, but getting so far had been a triumph in itself for the team managed by Hope Powell, whose players earn little, if anything, from football. The Americans, all professionals, are strong favourites to win the cup.

Back at Wimbledon, the Henmaniacs turned up in Union flag T-shirts once last time as their hero partnered Jamie Murray in a Davis Cup doubles match against Croatia. As usual, he struggled to kill off weaker opponents – but the pair eventually won by three sets to one. After years of under-achievement the win meant Great Britain would at last return to the elite World Group in tennis.

Although sometimes derided, Henman actually achieved more than any British player since Fred Perry, winning 11 singles titles and reaching number four in the world, as well as getting to the semi-finals of Wimbledon four times. As the crowd of 11,500 chanted his name he cradled his four-year-old daughter Rosie and told them: "I'm going to miss each and every one of you that supported me so well in my career."

John Lloyd, the Great Britain coach, said: "Tim has been an example to all the players in Britain with his work ethic and the way he's conducted himself. He hasn't had the credit he deserved."