Henman bows to inevitable as pain game takes final toll

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It was a decision, Tim Henman said, that he was 100 per cent convinced was right. After 14 years on the professional circuit, the 32-year-old announced here yesterday that he will play his last match in Britain's Davis Cup tie against Croatia at Wimbledon next month. After all his wonderful memories of competing at the All England Club, there could be no more fitting place to take his final bow.

Henman was still in the world's top 10 two summers ago, but he is set to drop out of the top 100 for the first time for 12 years if he loses to Dmitry Tursunov in the first round of the US Open, his penultimate competition, next week.

The slide has not been an enjoyable experience, but in making the decision to retire Henman said that the key factor had been physical rather than emotional pain. He has had a troublesome back condition for several years and when he started playing on hard courts again in Washington last month the pain convinced him that it was time to stop.

"The way that I felt made things a bit more clear-cut," he said. "With the level of tennis that I've played and the things that I've been able to achieve in tennis, I didn't just want to keep plugging away with the limited rewards that I was going to get."

Henman said his growing family was also a factor – he and his wife are expecting their third child next month – and he felt it was " absolutely the right time" to retire. "I feel so clear in my mind about this decision," he said. Only two months ago, when he played what proved to be his last match on Centre Court, Henman left Wimbledon hoping and expecting to return for next summer's Championships. However, he said yesterday that the idea of hanging on for nine months for a swansong next summer, with little chance of being competitive, had no appeal.

Henman said the fact that he will play his last match at the All England Club in next month's Davis Cup tie was a happy coincidence. "It was something that seemed to fit extremely well," he said. "It's always been an honour and a pleasure to play any event at the All England Club."

Retiring at a Davis Cup tie also brings a final parallel with Greg Rusedski, Henman's great rival, who bowed out after the match against the Netherlands earlier this year. Both players were born on 6 September (Rusedski a year earlier), both married a Lucy (their weddings were a week apart) and both reached No 4 in the world rankings.

Henman said he planned to take a lengthy break and had not decided what he would do thereafter, though he was convinced it would involve tennis. " This is a new beginning," he said. "I like to feel that there will be a lot of different opportunities for me."

What have been his fondest memories? "I've always said that my first title [Sydney in 1997] was something that stands out, as well as some of the results that I've had at Wimbledon, as well as my overall consistency. I had eight years in the top 20 and five of those were in the top 10. When I think back to 1995, when I was disqualified from Wimbledon, if I was then told what was going to happen over the next decade or so I would have been pretty surprised."

Although he regretted not winning Wimbledon, Henman added: "I know that I was able to maximise my potential. I was always out there playing matches and practising as hard as I could. This is as good as I could have been. I know I played the best tennis that I could at Wimbledon and that's something I'll always be very proud of."

What will he miss most? "The competition. That and playing on stadium courts like these [in New York] is really the final piece of the puzzle. Winning has been the best bit, but I also appreciate that there are so many other things that give you the opportunity to compete. That's probably what I've struggled with in the last few months."

Henman practised with Andy Murray yesterday afternoon – the Scot is optimistic about his chances of playing here after recovering from a wrist injury – and said he would enjoy watching the future progress of the next great bearer of British hopes.

Nevertheless, Henman said he was disappointed at the shortage of other good British players coming through, although he was encouraged by structures that have been put in place recently. "It's disappointing it's taken so long," he said.

* Jamie Murray and his partner Jordan Kerr came from a set down to reach the semi-finals of the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven after beating Alex Kuznetsov and Ryan Sweeting 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. They take on the fourth seeds Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski today.

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