Sport on TV: So, it's down to us when Tim wins and our fault when he doesn't

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The Independent Online

I can't believe they've pulled this trick again. You know, the one where they whip us up into a frenzy and then blame us for getting too hysterical when it all ends in tears. If it's not the England football team, then it's Tim Henman.

But those so-called experts have got it all wrong as they sit on that all-knowing cloud of theirs, reprimanding the masses for "expecting" Henman to win Wimbledon and so ruining what little chance he ever had. This ever-swelling brigade of the sporting intelligentsia could not get further away from the truth if they set sail on the HMS Archer and docked at Cronje Island.

Maybe their vast knowledge befuddles an issue that is blindingly obvious to any of us who framed our understanding of life by watching cartoons. Because just as we knew that Tom was never going to get one over on Jerry, so we know that Tim is never going to get one over on Perry. Not to say that we will ever stop watching it or willing it, but the only thing we are "expecting" is that impending taste of bitter frustration which makes the whole experience so addictive.

Indeed, what would happen if Tim ever did "come on" and win does not bear thinking about. It would be like the Wile E Coyote finally catching the Roadrunner; the show would end, "That's All Folks" would pop up for the last time and Henman's final air-punch would stand as a rather pathetic reminder of what used to be. It would be the biggest anti-climax since Lennox Lewis became Britain's first world heavyweight champion for a century.

At least the sport would then return to the true tennis fan, whose numbers form only a fraction of a per cent of the reported 14 million who tuned in for the quarter-final. It must be hideous to see your passion hijacked yet again by those so ignorant about the game that even when the umpire asks them not to use flash photography they erupt intoapplause. They are probably the real reason for this overload of pressure that the rest of us get accused of piling on Henman's inadequate shoulders.

But then, even this accusation isn't wholly fair, because in the rounds he wins they represent "a massive advantage" and when he loses they are a "crippling hindrance".

"The fans are vital to Henman's cause if he is to fight back today," said John Lloyd as Henman and Sebastien Grosjean walked out to finish the game on Thursday. Not 40 minutes later: "It must be so hard for Tim to come out on a packed Centre Court knowing they are all so desperate to see him win."

Make your mind up, you can't have it both ways. Unless of course, Henman can develop a signal to let the crowd know when he wants them to go absolutely mental and another to tell them when to slouch in their chairs, pull their Union Jack hats over their eyes and act as if they couldn't care less.

The ones who are really desperate to see him win, of course, are the BBC, who rack up ratings that eclipse all but the soaps whenever Tim's on court. It is probably naïve, therefore, to expect the slightest degree of impartiality, and apart from the sage that is John McEnroe, and his worthy understudy, Boris Becker, the rest are more than happy to drive the Henman bandwagon into the land of the one-eyed patriot.

In the second set on Wednesday, John Barrett screamed "YESSS!" when Henman dispatched a volley over Grosjean, who had just had the misfortune of slipping on his backside, and two days later he would still not lay off the little Frenchman, who had lost so emphatically to Mark Philippoussis.

"Fifty-five million Britons are wondering why he didn't play that badly against Tim," he said, seemingly oblivious to the superiority in class of the opponent who had just whipped Grosjean, as well as being a tad unfair to a player who had enriched the tournament.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, Sue Barker and her cohorts were still prattling on about Henman labouring under the heavy load of the great unwashed. "Maybe if the public just got off his back and let him play tennis he might even win Wimbledon one day," she said. What do they want us to do? Turn over to Terry and Gaby and then call up Ceefax and say, "Oh look, Henman's won Wimbledon"? They'd accuse us of not caring then. A bit like Tim, we just can't win.