Henman-Ivanisevic: the rematch

Old rivals meet tonight for the first time since their epic Wimbledon semi-final of 2001

We should have known that bad weather would hit the south-east this week. Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic face each other in London tonight for the first time since the Croatian won one of the most famous rain-affected matches in Wimbledon history.

Henman, who is making his debut on the ATP Champions Tour, plays Ivanisevic in the round-robin phase of the Aegon Masters at the Royal Albert Hall. When they came face to face yesterday morning it was no surprise that conversation quickly turned to 2001, the year when Ivanisevic became the first wild card ever to win Wimbledon.

The big-serving Croatian beat Pat Rafter to win the title but would probably not have made it to the final but for the British weather. The semi-final took three days to complete. Henman, who never had a better chance to win Wimbledon, appeared to be on his way to victory when rain curtailed play on the first day with the Briton leading by two sets to one; it was only eight years later that the All England Club installed a retractable roof over Centre Court.

"That match had a huge impact on our careers," Henman said yesterday. "In this country it's obviously the match that most people want to talk about. To play over three days, it was pretty amazing circumstances."

Ivanisevic had lost three previous Wimbledon finals, to Andre Agassi in 1992 and to Pete Sampras in 1994 and 1998. Troubled by a sore shoulder, he had slipped to No 125 in the world rankings, although his confidence grew as he blasted aside Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski and Marat Safin en route to the last four.

Henman, who had won all four of his previous meetings with Ivanisevic, had lost to Sampras in two previous Wimbledon semi-finals, in 1998 and 1999, but this time the American had been knocked out in the fourth round by a promising young Swiss, Roger Federer, who had in turn lost to Henman in the quarter-finals.

The semi-final began at tea-time on the Friday and ended on Sunday afternoon more than 45 hours later. The most significant rain break came at the end of the first day, with Henman leading by two sets to one and by 2-1 in the fourth set, having taken the third in just 15 minutes without dropping a point on his serve.

Ivanisevic levelled at two sets all on the Saturday. Henman was serving at 2-3 and 30-15 when another shower forced the match into a third day. Sunday's action lasted just 17 minutes, Ivanisevic making the decisive break to lead 5-3 after Henman had hit a double fault at deuce.

That evening Ivanisevic told reporters: "If some angel comes tonight in my dreams and says: 'OK, Goran, you're going to win Wimbledon tomorrow, but you're not able to touch the racket ever again,' I will say: 'OK, I'd rather take that and then never play tennis again in my life.'"

Ivanisevic, who went on to beat Rafter in the first men's singles final to begin on the third Monday since 1922, admitted yesterday: "Everything was on my side, especially in that semi-final. If Wimbledon had decided to put a roof on a couple of years earlier it's 100 per cent certain I would have lost that match. If we had finished that match on the Friday then he was just playing too well. I didn't play badly at all. I just didn't have any answer how to beat him.

"Then somehow, I don't know why, the rain came. After that rain everything changed and I played better and better and he wasn't producing the same game he was producing on the Friday. Then I knew there had to be somebody or something that wanted me to win Wimbledon that year."

Henman, who admits that a rain break had helped him against Todd Martin earlier in the tournament, recalled: "In the first two sets I had no real play on Goran's serve. Then, over time, I started to read it a bit better. Then I could have a bit of an impact.

"The biggest thing I found was that after the rain delays on both occasions his rhythm was so much better. He was hitting his spots again and it was almost like I had to go through the same process all over again to try and break him down. That was impossible to do and in the fourth and fifth sets I didn't break serve."

When Henman began training for this week's tournament – he had one practice session with Federer at Queen's Club during the world No 2's preparations for last week's ATP World Tour Finals – it was the first time he had picked up a racket since playing in an exhibition event at Wimbledon 18 months earlier. Since retiring three years ago Henman has devoted much more time to his family and his golf.

So why has the 36-year-old decided to start playing again now? "I just wanted to play some events because the players I'd spoken to had said how much they enjoyed being back out on the court in a more relaxed environment, which is not as intense as it used to be. With that in mind I think there's a possibility I'll play a few more events like this, maybe three or four events a year."

Ivanisevic, now 39, is a regular on the seniors tour – he has won titles this year in Barcelona and Knokke – and is pleased that Henman is on board. "I saw him at the World Tour Finals in London last year and I told him he should come back and play with us," Ivanisevic said. "He's a great tennis player and we miss players like him."

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most