Henman quits Davis Cup to focus on Grand Slams

Jeremy Bates, Britain's Davis Cup captain, described Tim Henman's retirement from the team yesterday as a "watershed". With Greg Rusedski approaching his 32nd birthday this year, the loss of Henman seems like the beginning of the end of a period of comparative success for the British game.

Jeremy Bates, Britain's Davis Cup captain, described Tim Henman's retirement from the team yesterday as a "watershed". With Greg Rusedski approaching his 32nd birthday this year, the loss of Henman seems like the beginning of the end of a period of comparative success for the British game.

Henman, the nation's most decorated male player since Fred Perry ruled Wimbledon and inspired Davis Cup glory in the 1930s, has decided to make the most of the time he has left at the sharp end of the sport to pursue individual honours. He will be 31 in September and, after playing 50 matches for his country, he is breaking free in an attempt to improve on his four semi-finals at Wimbledon and one at both the French Open and the US Open.

The British No 1's coach, the American Paul Annacone, knows from guiding Pete Sampras that the Davis Cup can be a drain on the physical resources of older players, and Henman's poor display in Austria in a World Group play-off last September suggested he had not recovered from his run at the US Open.

"At this stage in my career," Henman said, "the combination of the Davis Cup format and the rigours of the ATP Tour have made it necessary for me to make this decision. After much deliberation, I am confident this offers me the best opportunity to fulfil some unachieved goals I have left in the game."

Bates partnered Henman when Henman made his Davis Cup debut in the doubles rubber against Romania in Didsbury, Manchester, in 1994. Henman helped secure a win in five sets in the doubles, but Britain lost that Euro-African relegation tie, 3-2. Now Bates will have to plan without Henman for a Euro-African group tie against Israel in Tel Aviv next month.

"Tim's magnificent record speaks for itself," Bates said, "and while it is a great loss, I completely understand and respect his decision to retire from the Davis Cup and focus on Grand Slams and the Tour. This decision obviously marks a watershed in British Davis Cup tennis, but it is also a huge opportunity for the next generation to make their mark. We have a host of talented players coming through and despite losing someone of Tim's calibre, I remain very optimistic about the future."

Nonetheless, Henman's Davis Cup retirement has happened sooner than expected, and it will not be easy to find reinforcements to help Rusedski. For one thing, the Canadian-born British No 2's doubles partnership with Henman was unbeaten until last September's visit to Austria, although both men were anxious to be relieved of the burden of having to play on three consecutive days - they were a two-man Davis Cup team.

In Henman's absence, Andrew Murray, the 17-year-old US Open junior champion from Scotland, may have to be thrust into action ahead of his time, in singles if not doubles. Although Bates included Murray in his squad in Austria, he did not risk putting him in the team. Now the captain may not have a choice.

The Lawn Tennis Association can point to improved results at junior level, but Bates' options are still limited. Only Arvind Parmar and Alex Bogdanovic are ranked in the world's top 200, although Josh Goodall has made impressive progress to reach No 351, and the form of Andrew Banks has also been encouraging.

But Henman will at least be with the team in spirit. "Although I won't be playing," he said, "I would still like to make myself available to both Jeremy and the LTA in the future, so that I can draw upon my experience in the hope of trying to help the British players develop their full potential."

Henman's Davis Cup record

Won: 36. Lost: 14.

Doubles debut: partnered Jeremy Bates against Romania in Manchester in July 1974. Beat Cosac and Pescariu, 6-2, 6-7, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.

Singles debut: against Slovakia in Bratislava, April 1995. Lost to Jan Kroslak, 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and lost dead rubber to Karol Kucera, 6-4, 6-2.

When Henman was unable to play: Britain beat Slovenia at Newcastle in 1996, lost to Zimbabwe at Crystal Palace in 1997 and lost to Australia in Sydney in 2003.

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