Henman must wait to claim place in history

British No 1 claims advantage in semi-final before rain interrupts compelling contest
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The Independent Online

Rarely has a British tennis player and his public been held in suspense as agonisingly as Tim Henman was last night. He led Goran Ivanisevic by two sets to one in a match that could put him into tomorrow's men's singles final against Australia's Pat Rafter.

The British No 1 is due to return to the Centre Court at two o'clock this afternoon, hoping to complete the job and become the nation's first men's finalist since 1938, when Bunny Austin lost to the Grand Slam-bound American, Don Budge. Although Henman leads 5-7, 7-6, 6-0, with Ivanisevic serving at 1-2, 40-30, in the fourth set, the overnight delay may change the momentum of the contest. Ivanisevic, a runner-up on three occasions, had seemed on the verge of defeat before rain and bad light stopped play last night.

Their semi-final will start the day's play and will be followed by the women's singles final between Venus Williams, the defending champion, and Justine Henin, of Belgium.

Henman and Ivanisevic match will resume at 1pm and the women's final will not be on the court before 2pm, as originally scheduled. This, of course, depends on a dry day. The Championships, which have enjoyed so much sunshine, with few interruptions, may be about to take a turn for the worse. The forecast reads: "The day will begin dry, but showers are likely to develop by lunchtime, and these may become heavy and thundery through the afternoon."

Understandably after the excitement of Rafter's five-set victory against Andre Agassi in the opening semi-final yesterday, the Centre Court half- emptied as spectators left for refreshments or other relief and there was an eerie atmosphere as Henman and Ivanisevic began what for Britain promised to be the most significant match of this and many a year.

The stands began to fill up during the first changeover, however, just in time to see Henman create the first break point of the match. Henman's plan was to make his opponent think, and he achieved that much with a crosscourt backhand drive which Ivanisevic volleyed into the net. But the Croat's thinking on this occasion was positive: he hit an ace timed at 132mph to salvage the situation.

After the eighth game, either because of the tension in the crowd or just a momentary lapse of concentration, the Swedish umpire, Andreas Egli, announced: "Game Ivanisevic, four games all." Fortunately the players and spectators realised the game belonged to Henman.

That was not to be the case when it came to the twelfth game. Ivanisevic created his first break point – which was also a set point – by returning a second serve with a backhand down the line. He repeated the trick to take the set after 42 minutes.

As the second set got under way, dark clouds crept over the stadium, blocking out the sunshine that had blessed Rafter's victory. At first it appeared that this was the only change, as Ivanisevic continued to serve with a fluid action that took him through his first three service games of the set without dropping a point.

Moreover, he even managed to overcome the crisis of double faulting twice at 5-4, 15-30. Henman came close to converting the first of the break points but his attempted backhand pass landed long. Ivanisevic saved the second with an ace, only to offer a third break opportunity to Henman after failing to intercept a forehand drive. This time an ace at 129mph solved the problem and the set moved on to the tie break.

The shoot-out started ominously for Henman, who missed a backhand volley at 1-1. Ivanisevic obligingly double- faulted for 2-2, but Henman found himself in arrears again after losing his footing at 3-3 as Ivanisevic delivered a crosscourt backhand for a mini-break. Henman levelled and steadily took the initiative, creating his first set point by holding for 6-5 with a backhand volley behind a second serve. Ivanisevic, on serve, saved it with an equally impressive backhand volley.

Henman, poised as ever to pounce on second serves, returned one with a forehand at 6-6 and Ivanisevic dumped a volley into the net. Henman, serving on the second match point, converted for 8-6 with a high forehand volley.

The second set, which had taken 47 minutes, hardly prepared the spectators for what was to follow in the next 14 minutes. The lapses in Ivanisevic's game Henman hoped would appear came in abundance. Two sloppy volleys signalled the dip in form, and Henman struck with two potent backhands to break for 2-0.

With Ivanisevic reeling and Henman stirred into arm-pumping mode, the remaining four games of the set flashed by. Henman dropped only one point on his serve in the set and Ivanisevic gleaned only five points in total.

Ivanisevic held for 1-1 in the fourth set – his first game in eight. In the third game Henman, chasing the ball after a net cord at 30-0, slid into the umpire's chair, one leg stretched either side, as Ivanisevic won the point. Fortunate only to have scraped a knee and elbow in the mishap, Henman was shaken enough to double-fault to 30-30. He was able to recover his composure and hold for 2-1.

Shortly before the clouds broke, Henman thought he had a chance to crack Ivanisevic for 3-1. Ivanisevic's volley at 30-30 looked out but was given in, and with play suspended the players left the court with Ivanisevic leading, 40-30, rather than having to resume today at 30-40.

Henman, who has prided himself with the way he has managed to work his way through any ups and down on the court since parting from his coach, David Felgate, in April, faces a major psychological test today.

Ivanisevic, one of the sport's great eccentrics, could turn out to be even more dangerous today than he was yesterday. Given the time to regroup, he may enlist the help of one of the two imaginary Goran's who inhabit his psyche. Henman must trust the "Bad Goran" emerges rather than the "Emergency Guy – Brains".

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