Tim Henman's Wimbledon dream once again hangs in the clouds. The British No 1's quarter-final against Sebastien Grosjean was suspended overnight with the Frenchman leading, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, and Henman ahead 2-1 in the fourth set.
In the past, Henman's quest has been helped and hindered by rain, his most notable misfortune coming in 2001 when his semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic, the eventual champion, was spread over three agonising days.
Yesterday's contest against Grosjean was interrupted three times before the referee, Alan Mills, called a halt. "In fairness to the players, I couldn't hold them out there any longer," Mills said. "It's very slippery and dangerous." Play on all courts is scheduled for noon today, though the forecast is not promising. Henman's match is due back on Centre Court after the women's semi-final between Serena Williams and Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Grosjean, who for much of the contest had frustrated Henman with the power of his serving, the precision of his ground-strokes, some surprising moves to the net and an array of sumptuous drop-shots, was not unhappy to leave the court in the hope of clement conditions today.
The match could not have had a more ominous start. Not only did Grosjean seem to pick up where he left off against Henman in the semi-final at Queen's, but the weather took a turn for the worse.
Grosjean's service returns pierced Henman in the fourth game, the Frenchman teeing off on both the forehand and the backhand, passing Henman left and right. It was not even possible to rationalise Grosjean's superiority by bemoaning Henman's serving.
The Briton was 15-30 down before he missed a first serve, and when he tempted Grosjean with second serves on the next two points, the balls flew past him at such a rate that the groans of the spectators seemed to be on a time-delay.
Grosjean held for 4-1 after 15 minutes with an ace at 40-30, after which play was suspended, the tent was raised, and the players spent the next 63 minutes in the locker room.
Henman fared no better when play resumed for four minutes. He double-faulted to 30-40 and then played a forehand drop-shot that hit the net cord and dropped back to put him 5-1 with half an hour to ruminate in the locker room.
Whatever thoughts passed through the Briton's mind, he attacked Grosjean with greater determination, breaking through - along with the sunshine - to fluster his opponent and rouse the crowd. Henman's recovery was breathtaking. After cracking Grosjean's serve for 2-5 with a backhand volley and a smart return, he broke a second time in the ninth game with two returns to the Frenchman's forehand.
The hopeful chants now began to sound optimistic as he levelled the set in the 10th game and forced a tie-break after 41 minutes. The volume of support increased as Henman recovered from 1-2 in shoot-out to gain a mini-break for 5-3, passing Grosjean with a cross-court backhand as impressive as the Frenchman's shots earlier in the set. Henman then solidly returned Grosjean's second serve to create three set points.
Grosjean's returns resulted in Henman netting backhand volleys on the first two opportunities, but the Briton allowed the third set point to slip by playing a tentative sliced backhand wide. After serving away Grosjean's first set point, at 6-7, Henman had a fourth chance to take the set at 8-7, but the Frenchman served his way out of trouble.
As the tension increased, on and around the court, Grosjean created his second set point, guessing right when Henman tried to hit a backhand across the court and intercepting the shot by stretching to hit a backhand volley. Grosjean converted for 10-8, passing Henman with a cross-court forehand and waving a clenched fist towards his support group.
So, despite his efforts, Henman was a set down after 55 minutes. He took a bathroom break before the start of the second set, but was unable to clear his mind of the consequence of his inability to secure any of the four set points.
Grosjean broke in the opening game of the second set, winning a duel of half-volleys at 30-30 and then returning Henman's next serve and watching his opponent nudge a forehand volley long.
Henman's recovery was immediate. He put enough pace on a forehand drive for Grosjean to net a forehand on break point in the second game, and the Frenchman needed to be resourceful to save two break points in the third game. Henman had an escape after double-faulting at deuce at 2-2, and capitalised when Grosjean's serve wavered in the eighth game.
The Frenchman double-faulted to 3-4, 15-40. He had an escape on the first break point, when Henman found the net when returning a second serve. But the Frenchman impressed by serve-and-volleying on a second serve to save the second break point.
Henman gained a third opportunity with a backhand lob, and converted it with the aid of the net cord, his forehand return of Grosjean's second serve juddering the tape before dropping on the Frenchman's side of the court. As Grosjean glanced in his direction after the conclusion of the point, Henman waved a hand in apology before proceeding to serve out the set.
Grosjean held to love in the opening game of the third set, although Henman was not happy when 'Cyclops', the service line machine, failed to bleep on a couple of serves. The Portuguese umpire, Carlos Ramos, shrugged his shoulders when Henman complained, and the player responded: "Don't just do that, get it sorted out. You're supposed to be in f***ing charge here. " The umpire tried to discuss the matter during the change-over, but Henman said, "I don't have to listen, I don't want to listen."
Henman held for 1-1, and, with Grosjean serving at 15-0 in the third game play was suspended a third time, this time for two hours. On the resumption, the Frenchman pounced, breaking for 3-1 when Henman patted a backhand into the net after his second serve was returned.
Although Henman fought back to 3-4 with a forehand drive, Grosjean struck again in the eighth game, breaking with a forehand cross-court return, and served the set out to love.
As the fourth set got under way Grosjean complained that there was rain in the air and the court was becoming dangerous. Play continued for three games until the ubiquitous Mills intervened.Reuse content