It was his greatest show of emotion in the 14 years he has graced the courts of the All England Club. Tim Henman, who has spent a professional lifetime keeping a stiff upper lip, sank to his knees, kissed the grass on which he has thrilled a generation of British tennis supporters and returned to his seat to bury his face in his towel.
Henman thought Britain's Davis Cup tie against Croatia here would be a fitting finale to his career and the first day of the World Group play-off yesterday lived up to every expectation. After Andy Murray had won a five-set thriller against Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, Henman delivered a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Roko Karanusic, a late replacement for the sick Ivan Ljubicic.
Britain can clinch a return to the World Group for the first time for four years by winning this afternoon's doubles, in which Henman looks certain to line up alongside Jamie Murray in place of the latter's brother. Henman would like to play and although John Lloyd said he would consult the team before making his decision, the British captain is unlikely to let down another sell-out crowd on No 1 Court hoping to pay a final tribute to their hero.
Already without their No 2 and No 3 players, Mario Ancic and Ivo Karlovic, the Croats suffered a devastating blow when Ljubicic, their leading light, was taken ill with a urinary infection. Karanusic, the 25-year-old world No 164, is a far inferior player, though Henman admitted afterwards that it had been unsettling to face an opponent whose game he barely knew, having prepared for a month to face the world No 12.
The cries of "Come on, Tim!" have rarely been made with as much passion as they were by a crowd appreciably more vocal than usual on these courts. They brought banners reading "Arise Sir Timothy" and "Thanks for the memories".
Watched by his parents, wife and eldest daughter, Henman made a nervous start, but after breaking serve in the third game he took complete control with some fine attacking tennis. The only wobble came when he failed to serve out at 5-1 in the third set, but he made no mistake two games later.
"I was struggling a little bit," he said about containing his emotions, having lapped up the applause. "I spoke to Roger Federer yesterday and he warned me about speaking to Sue Barker after the match. I tried to prepare myself, but it means an enormous amount to me. I always felt there was going to be some emotion."
Given the absence of Ljubicic, Croatia's best hope of winning the tie lay in Cilic surprising Andy Murray in the opening rubber. For the best part of two sets a nervous-looking Murray played too tentatively, while the 18-year-old world No 108 went for his shots.
Murray started to get on top only after adopting a more aggressive approach towards the end of the second set. From 4-4 Murray won seven games in a row, though a loss of concentration at the start of the fourth set proved costly.
The Scot was always in front in the decider, however, having broken to lead 2-0 with the shot of the match, a half-volley cross-court winner from the baseline. When Cilic netted a backhand on Murray's first point the 20-year-old Scot sank to his knees, in relief as much as in celebration.
"Because it's Tim's last match everyone wants to play well and it was very emotional for me," Murray said afterwards. "I haven't been that fired up for a match for a long time."Reuse content