Power shortage proves fatal for Henman's hopes

Weakened serve puts paid to British No 1's dreams of glory for another year as Grosjean sets up semi-final against Philippoussis
Click to follow

It was Thor's day, but Tim Henman had no thunderbolts. The British No 1 had been unable to intimidate opponents with his serve for a year, surgery to his right shoulder making him even more conservative with his deliveries this season.

A serve-and-volleyer without a potent serve is a sitting duck. Even the diminutive Sebastien Grosjean, the French ground-stroker who denied Henman a fifth semi-final appearance in six years, was serving at up to 128 mph.

Although Henman said he felt no pain in his shoulder, he was unable to hurt Grosjean with his serve. In the circumstances, the Frenchman's victory, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, may have saved the 28-year-old from humiliation at the hands of Mark Philippoussis.

The big-serving Australian, who wore down Andre Agassi in the fourth round and came back from two sets down to overhaul the German Alexander Popp yesterday, is due to put Grosjean's skill and resilience to the test today. The winner will emerge to play in Sunday's final against either Andy Roddick, who cracks serves at up to 149 mph, or Roger Federer, the most naturally talented player in the game.

Grosjean's success against Henman in the semi-finals at Queen's Club en route to SW 19 was portentous. Since then Henman had played his way past three players from the pre-qualifying tournament, building enough confidence to overcome David Nalbandian, last year's runner-up, in the fourth round. But Grosjean had too much power and skill for Henman to take his challenge farther.

The impact of Henman's latest loss on the lawns may diminish as he moves into the American hard court season, culminating in the United States Open, the year's concluding Grand Slam championship, at the end of August. But yesterday he was hurting.

Having conceded after his opening match against Tomas Zib, a Czech lucky loser, that, "The bottom line is I haven't been good enough [to progress beyond the semi-finals]," Henman acknowledged last night that, with so many eager young players coming through, his chance of winning Wimbledon may have passed.

"I think my chances are getting less," he said. "That still won't stop me coming back and trying."

A kind draw only delayed the time when Henman had to face an opponent who was better prepared and eager to prove it. Grosjean, the 13th seed, was that man. Regarded as something of an unknown warrior in France, chiefly because of his shy nature and inability, so far, to thrill his countryfolk with a inspirational display in the Davis Cup, the 25-year-old from Marseilles has gone about his business with style since arriving in London.

He is only third Frenchman in the Open era to advance to the semi-finals, following Henri Leconte, who was defeated by Boris Becker in 1986, and Cedric Pioline, who lost to Pete Sampras in the final in 1997.

From the start of his rain-interrupted contest with Henman, which began on Wednesday, Grosjean was more authoritative with his serves and returns and hit magnificent passing shots and tantalising drop-shots. The Frenchman led 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 2-1 overnight and the action yesterday lasted for 32 minutes, with two pieces of it to be treasured by tennis enthusiasts the world over. Henman, break point down at 3-3, hit a backhand towards the right-hand corner. Grosjean raced across the court and whisked a backhand that hit the far line.

Grosjean then made the shot of the tournament when break point down at 4-3. Henman lobbed him, only for the Frenchman to run the ball down with his back to the net. Suddenly, he turned and smashed the the ball down the line for a spectacular winner.

Henman managed to serve away the first match point to hold for 4-5, but Grosjean finished the match by holding to love, converting the second match with a service winner.

"The way that I played in my two matches prior to the Grosjean match," Henman said, "I felt like my form was pretty much where I wanted it to be. I give Seb a lot of credit, because I think he played better than me.

"In the bigger picture in terms of my career, I've still got another four or five years. In all honesty, with all the attention that goes with this month every year, my lack of results at other tournaments surprises me. I think I've been very relaxed [here]. I think I've handled the situation pretty well. When I go to some of these other tournaments, I think I should be so much more carefree and relaxed about things."

Next June Henman is determined to treat his supporters to another run for glory. With luck, he will not be catching up on the year as he was on this occasion.

Grosjean was not alone in bringing spectators to their feet with his shot-making yesterday. Philippoussis did a Boris Becker, diving to hit a winning volley before rolling and regaining his feet with the dexterity of a gymnast.

Given decent weather, a thrilling climax is in prospect.