Swiss master mauls 'Tiger Tim' to bring down curtain on era

Otherwise, Stich is surely kidding himself. When Federer plays like he did yesterday in massacring Tim Henman it is hard to imagine anyone living with him on Centre Court, including Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras at their respective peaks. Maybe Borg, McEnroe and Sampras together might have managed it.

Henman did not play especially badly, not even in amassing a mere five points in the second set. In fact, there were times when he played rather well, mixing up his shots and forcing practically an entire bead of sweat to form on the champion's brow. For a while in the first set they traded whippy backhands and searching forehands, and at 3-4, with Henman gaining a break point against the Federer serve and beginning to approach the net with what looked passably like menace, there was even the whiff of an upset on the cards. The upset being that he might break the Federer serve to win another game. That he might win the match was always such a fantasy that nobody but J K Rowling could have plotted it.

The spectators knew it, too. Normally a kind of hysteria engulfs the Centre Court crowd during a Henman match, but yesterday it was sadly - some would say mercifully - lacking. There were hardly any silly hats, no St George's Cross capes. A half-hearted Mexican wave between the first and second sets was the only show of communal exuberance. And when one joker called out, "C'mon Tiger," and followed it with a growl, the growl sounded apologetic.

Fittingly so. Tiger Tim might play again at Wimbledon, but it was still abundantly clear that his distinguished opponent was bringing the curtain down, somewhat savagely in the end, on an era. Who among us can remember when Henman exited the championships so early, at least without Big Ben stopping and the ravens leaving the Tower of London?

Still, there was no indignity in losing so comprehensively to a man who has now won his last 43 matches on grass. Mario Ancic was the last man to beat him, in the first round here in 2002. The next person to do it might be the son of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, when he grows up.

He's the nearest tennis gets to genetic engineering, and that's what it could take to end the age of Federer, as Federer yesterday ended the age of Henman.

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