Has Tim Henman reached the point of no return? That is the key question today as the British No 1 attempts to become the nation's first men's singles finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938. Unless Henman is able to succeed where Greg Rusedski and Marat Safin have failed in getting his racket solidly on Goran Ivanisevic's serve, the dream will be shattered.
Playing Ivanisevic when he is serving as well as he has over the past fortnight might be akin to sharing a snooker table with a Ronnie O'Sullivan or a Stephen Hendry. If he is cueing his shots, the balls disappear before there is a chance to get in the game.
Henman has experienced the blur of Ivanisevic's serve in four previous matches, and has won them all. Granted there is no comparison between Henman's challenge on the Centre Court this afternoon and ATP Tour contests over the best of three sets on a concrete court in Sydney, indoor carpets in Stuttgart and Basle and the grass at Queen's Club. But Henman did have the satisfaction of parrying the mighty Croat and wounding him with thrusts of his own.
Psychologically, that is preferable to Rusedski's record of eight consecutive defeats against Ivanisevic prior to their fourth-round contest on Court One last Monday, particularly since the British No 2 has a similar left-handed game which lives or dies by the serve. Ivanisevic was surprised that Rusedski chose to use a "kick" on his first serve and and stay back so often after delivering it – although he evidently did not stand far enough behind the baseline when receiving Ivanisevic's wicked serves down the middle and to the corners.
"I'd like to think Goran's high level of serving has to come to an end at some stage," Henman says, "but it's going to be about making him play as many balls as possible. He'll serve many aces, and I accept that.
"But if I can just keep chipping away at it, keep making him play an extra volley here or there, make him think a bit more and start going for a bit extra, a little closer to the lines, he might miss one – might miss an important one."
He added: "I feel good about my own service game, so – as always with grass-court tennis at this level of the tournament – it will boil down to a few points. It's my job to try and take them."
Ivanisevic has undergone a dramatic and heart-warming transformation since his visit to Brighton last November, when he could not finish a second-round match at the Samsung Open because he had broken all his rackets.
His dodgy shoulder and eccentric mind have been trouble free, and Wimbledon's decision to grant the three-times runner-up a wild card has been rewarded as never before. Ivanisevic has converted the hand-out into a winning ticket.
"It's a great story," Henman agreed. "He's really popular with the rest of the players, and people are aware of what he's been through in the past 12 months, struggling with his shoulder and his form. He's a good character to have around. He's good for tennis in general. I've got to try and stop his title dreams. I'm sure he's going to try to do the same to me."
In 1938, Austin lost in the men's singles final to the American Don Budge, who went on to complete the Grand Slam. Budge defeated Henman's grandfather, Henry Billington, in the second round, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1.
Henman has already surpassed his grandfather's deeds, and is due to join Austin in the list of British men's singles finalists, advancing the chronology beyond the Second World War. "If I were to beat Goran," Henman says, "I'd say the winner of the Rafter-Agassi match goes into the final as favourite. I'll worry about that when I hopefully get there." Your correspondent believes he will.Reuse content