James Lawton: Henman exposes own limitations and folly of nation's monstrous hype

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Once again, thanks for the memories, Tim - and try not to feel too badly.

You are, after all, not the creator of Henmania, but the prisoner of it. You didn't turn your life into some monstrous exercise in hype. You just played your game - as well as you could. As you always do.

No doubt the summer cult which has surrounded you for so long will linger on this time next year - and maybe for one or two more after that.

But, even on this island which is so regularly made silly by false hopes - and flawed values - on various sports fields it will probably start the dwindling process right now. Because surely the false coin will have finally dropped. It is that of all your virtues the potential to be champion of Wimbledon has never really been one of them.

A brave contender to carry interest deep into the second week, someone head and shoulders above compatriots of both sexes for so long, yes. A viable alternative to champions like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and now, potentially, Andy Roddick, plainly no.

A powerful and poignant sense of this was inevitable yesterday if you happened to be at Court One when the latest titan of the game, this hugely powerful 20-year-old Roddick, swept aside the ageing but still technically accomplished Jonas Bjorkman.

As the crowd in the stadium gasped at the overwhelming power of the American youngster, they could hear the ragged and only occasional cries of support for that other contender coming from Henman Hill.

Never have they sounded so pathetically out of touch with the realities of a tournament, which for the last few years has been so distorted by such irrational hopes.

The dawning sense of this on Centre Court, where Henman faced the largely unheralded but clearly superior Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, had already brought a touch of sadness.

As Henman failed to produce the traditional rally, which might just have got him back into his unresolved quarter-final there was the familiar cry of, "Come on, Tiger.'' But this time it didn't begin to produce a swelling of support. What came, to the Centre Court's internal shame, with the communal titter.

But, of course, that's the trouble with making paper tigers. After a while there is inevitably an urge to tear them into little pieces before making new ones.

It is a fate undeserved by Tim Henman.

A few days ago he offered the possibility of his own Wimbledon epitaph when he reviewed the campaigns which had taken him so close, and which have so fired the nation. He recalls the time he battled with arguably the greatest Wimbledon champion of them all, Pete Sampras. He relived the taut days of 2001 when, as this week, he dodged the showers to duel with Goran Ivanisevic. On both occasions he fell short and when asked for an explanation he said: "Maybe I just wasn't good enough to win.'' But then there have been many times when he has offered such warnings, but without much effect. So, of course, he lives with his situation. He also admitted this week that he had drawn great benefits from it. What could he do but try his best? It was something that should have been more readily accepted when he went into his latest challenge - one which for many will represent, almost certainly the end of a long and emotionally bruising campaign.

Certainly it should have been remembered on a damp afternoon yesterday when the titters ran so cruelly around the court.