British tennis supporters begged Tim Henman give them a break yesterday, and he gave them 10 en route to his seventh quarter-final in eight years. But he lost his own serve five times in the process.
Watching Henman is never guaranteed to be stress-free, and his fourth-round duel with the Argentinian David Nalbandian, last year's runner-up, was particularly fraught.
Henman, who prevailed, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, after three hours, joked that at one stage he was, "Going to call the trainer for depression, but I don't think he could have given me anything."
Instead, the British No 1 managed to pull himself round as fading light threatened to push the match into today. That was the fate of the men who were battling to meet him in the last eight. Sebastien Grosjean, of France, who defeated Henman in the semi-finals at Queen's Club, was leading Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, the French Open champion, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6, when play was suspended on Court One.
"I won it mentally," Henman said. "I wasn't going to give in." Be that as it may, it was worrying that Henman converted only half his 20 break points and was unable to hold serve so often.
Nalbandian said he was unable to serve properly because of an abdominal strain from Saturday's match against Karol Kucera of Slovakia. But he conceded: "Tim did play very good. He put a lot of pressure on my game, on my serve."
The Argentinian recovered after being outplayed in the first set and the opening four games of the second. Henman's consistent serving enabled him to be aggressive at the start of the contest. He converted his fourth break point with a winning volley for 4-2 and underlined his confidence by breaking a second time to love to close the opening set after 32 minutes.
Although Henman double-faulted for the first time in the opening game of the second set, he quickly regained his composure to win his fifth game in a row. Henman broke for 3-1, Nalbandian double-faulting at deuce and netting a forehand volley under pressure from a Henman half-volley on the set point.
Henman's almost flawless display of serve-and-volleying to this point may have lulled the spectators into anticipating a comfortable victory, but Nalbandian unsettled them by recovering the break with his first opportunity of the match in the next game. Henman offered the Argentinian a look at a second serve at 30-40, and Nalbandian passed him with a backhand return.
Nalbandian saved two break points before levelling the set, 3-3, but Henman had cause to rue a miss on the first opportunity, netting a forehand with an open court to aim for. Nalbandian ended the game brilliantly, picking up a Henman half-volley and playing a forehand down the line.
When it came to the tie-break, Nalbandian fluked a return off his frame for 5-3 but then rode his luck, producing the better shots, such as a top-spin lob for 6-4. Henman hit a forehand wide on the first set point.
Nalbandian took a bathroom break before the start of the third set, and lost his concentration shortly after play resumed. The Argentinian served poorly in the third game, double-faulting to 0-40. Henman netted a backhand return on the first break point, but converted the second, intercepting Nalbandian's attempted lob with a forehand volley.
As in the second set, Henman was unable to hold his lead. Nalbandian was able read Henman's second serve in sixth game, passing him with a backhand to 0-40 and converting the first of the three break points with a low backhand approach that clipped the net cord, cramping Henman, whose attempted forehand volley hit the net.
This triggered an astonishing sequence of six consecutive service breaks, the most agonising for the spectators coming with Henman serving for the set at 5-4. Henman netted a forehand at 30-40.
Nalbandian double-faulted twice at 5-5, losing the game with the second. That gave Henman a second chance to serve out the set, and he took it. An ace down the middle timed at 126 mph gave him set point, and he converted with a forehand volley.
Henman took a 2-0 lead in the fourth set, teasing the crowd into believing that soon they would be heading home with a victory to celebrate. But the twists and turns continued. Nalbandian broke back to 2-2, after Henman had been awarded a point for 40-30, even though the ball bounced twice. Henman restored his lead, breaking to love for 4-3.
After holding the eighth game, illuminating the proceedings with a classical running forehand winner down the line, Henman ended the match with one last break, Nalbandian netting a forehand on the third match point.
Andy Roddick, the bookmakers' favourite, advanced to his first quarter-final here with a convincing four-set win against Paradorn Srichaphan, of Thailand, who eliminated Andre Agassi in the second round last year. As stop-start-matches go, this was among the smoothest. Rain interrupted play after only two minutes. The players resumed one hour nine minutes later but were uninterrupted thereafter.
Roddick, who has now won his last nine matches on grass, having won the title at Queen's Club three weeks' ago, looked confident early in the match and dropped only three points on his serve in winning the opening set after 24 minutes.
The 20-year-old American's net play was suspect, his touch rather uncertain when drawn so far into the court. But his serving was crisp and powerful as usual, and he pounded his groundstrokes.
Srichaphan, who may be remembered for his Davis Cup exploits against Britain in Birmingham last September, had enough supporters to make themselves heard, shrilly at times, and he did his best to entertain them.
Indeed, the Thai's followers had reason to cheer loudly in the second set after Srichaphan broke Roddick for 4-2, the American netting a forehand from behind the baseline. Srichaphan served the set out with a service winner after aceing Roddick in the ninth game.
Roddick saved a break point with an ace at the start of the third set, and did well to escape unscathed in the third game, in which Srichaphan created four break points.
The Thai did not fare so well when Roddick applied pressure on his serve in the sixth game. Srichaphan managed to salvage three break points but netted a forehand drive on the fourth to go 4-2 down. The remainder of this set was memorable chiefly for a service return by Srichaphan on the first set point with Roddick at 5-3, 40-0. Srichaphan took a shortish backswing and cracked an unstoppable forehand past the American, who could not have been more astonished if he had been on the wrong end of one of his own mighty serves. Roddick netted a backhand on the second set point but converted his third opportunity with an ace down the middle.
Roddick now began to play with the authority he displayed in the opening set. Srichaphan netted a forehand drive to lose his serve in the third game, and at that point he was less of a threat. The Thai started hitting out in hope rather than expectation and his errors began to mount. He was broken a second time for 4-1, Roddick lofting a lob as his opponent moved forward at 15-40. Srichaphan gave chase and tried a shot between his legs, putting the ball into the net. Roddick held to love in the next game, and Srichaphan held to 30 in the seventh game. His last meaningful contribution was a forehand drop volley which rolled along the net cord before dropping on Roddick's side.
The American served out to love after one hour and 54 minutes to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.