Tim Henman's farewell to tennis in the Davis Cup at Wimbledon this week was always guaranteed to be sentimental. Now it has every chance of being joyful, too, with Britain's Croatian opponents in considerable disarray over selection.
The nation which won this trophy less than two years ago will be without two of its three key players, with Mario Ancic injured and the giant Ivo Karlovic refusing to turn out for his country following a dispute over payments. So hard up are Croatia that last week, on his 36th birthday, Goran Ivanisevic received a phone call asking if he would help them out by playing doubles. Like Karlovic, Ivanisevic said no. From being a vociferous supporter of the Davis Cup principle and his home team, the 2001 Wimbledon champion fell out with the Croatian authorities over his wish to become non-playing captain.
Now, like so many others, Goran is aiming his good wishesat Henman, the man he so memorably defeated at Wimbledon in a rain-wrecked 2001 semi-final. "This is going to be a special match because it is Tim's last," said Ivanisevic, in London over the weekend for the Betfair Turbo Tennis jamboree at the O2 Arena. "Tim is one of the greatest players ever in the game. It doesn't matter that he never won a Grand Slam. What is important is what he did for British tennis, and world tennis too.
"After Tim, you were lucky. Andy Murray came along. But what is after him? You will have a problem with the British team when Henman has gone. A country like Britain has a budget of £50 million and only one tennis player; in Croatia we have a couple of hundred thousand pounds and three guys in the top 30."
It was a sentiment with which Murray concurred. "There is nobody coming through and it looks as if it is not going to change in the next two years," said the Scot, who fears that shouldering the Davis Cup burden alone will prove too great for him, one reason why he joins the increasingly popular call among the world's top players for the competition to be staged less frequently than every year.
Victory over Croatia in the three-day event at Wimbledon, starting on Friday, would return Britain to the 16-nation World Group, but with no competitors apart from Andy Murray and his doubles specialist brother, Jamie. "There are definitely gaps," conceded the British captain, John Lloyd, whose main concern is to win this week's tie and then worry about the future.
Ivan Ljubicic, the CroatianNo 1 and ranked 12 in the world, has also announced this will be his Davis Cup farewell, so he can be counted on for something special at a location where he has previously failed to shine. The second singles spot will be taken by the teenager Marin Cilic, a former world No 1junior and now 117 in the ATP rankings, who beat Henman at the Artois Championships at Queen's this summer.
Whether Cilic is capable of repeating that success is debatable, especially if Henman can summon up the level of play he showed at the US Open recently. "I have a feeling Tim is going to play very well," said Lloyd. "With Croatia's team problems, we've had a nice shift of momentum. I have a lot of respect for Croatia, but Andy has had a couple more weeks' work, he is fit and training hard, I expect him to be 100 per cent."
Perhaps the biggest gamble has been taken by staging this tie, an 11,200 sellout, outdoors so late in the year.
At the O2 Arena last night, Andy Murray enjoyed a lucrative warm-up for the Davis Cup tie by lifting the £50,000 first prize in the Turbo Tennis event beating his older brother Jamie 7-5 in the semi-finals and then Ivanisevic 7-4 in the final.Reuse content