To the accompaniment of a wistful sigh from Middle England, Tim Henman's latest pursuit of his Holy Grail, a Wimbledon title, collapsed shortly after noon on the Centre Court yesterday. It was the glum climax to a weekend on which the sporting hopes of the nation had, one by one, turned to dust.
Even as Henman was tasting, yet again, the sourness of failure, England's Test cricket team were sliding to a widely predicted, but still devastating defeat at the hands of Australia in the opening match of the Ashes series at Edgbaston.
England's defeat was by an innings and 118 runs, a withering one-two combination from the Antipodes after Saturday's 35-14 defeat of the British Lions rugby team in Melbourne.
Henman's defeat was by a far more slender margin, but the pain, personal and communal, was no less acute.
He perished in a 14 minute shoot out with Goran Ivanisevic, the sensationally revived Croat who became the first wild-card entry to reach a Wimbledon final. Ivanisevic had seemed to be burnt out on Friday night when the rain loosened Henman's two-sets-to-one stranglehold on the semi-final. But his triumph means he will now make his fourth appearance in a Wimbledon final, having lost previously to Andre Agassi and, twice, to Pete Sampras, the seven-times-champion.
For Henman, who was playing in his third semi-final – he too lost twice to Sampras – it added up to another gallant failure to fulfil the dreams of much of the nation. As ever, he was stoical and dignified in defeat, refusing to complain about the disruption caused by the rain. "The conditions of the match were the same for both of us and I give full credit to Goran," he said. "But I will be back. I see no reason why I can't achieve a Wimbledon title.''
Henman, 26, from Oxfordshire, lost his chance to meet Pat Rafter from Australia in today's delayed final when the notoriously fragile composure of Ivanisevic held up in the final phase of the elongated duel. The Croat broke Henman's serve in the eighth game of the fifth set and, after crossing himself following his failure to put away two match points, delivered a brilliantly judged second serve to win another one. He then produced his 31st ace of the match to reach the final.
"I thank God for this,'' said Ivanisevic. "I ask him for a lot and he didn't fail me this time.''
For British sport, the need for divine help is quite as pressing – especially for cricket. While the Lions may win their series in Australia next Saturday, the cricketers seem destined for a long, painful summer.
Their chief tormentor yesterday was pace man Jason Gillespie, who claimed three wickets in 15 balls. He was assisted by leg spinner Shane Warne, who claimed two victims in successive deliveries.
The final disaster was the news that the England captain, Nasser Hussain, had to leave for treatment of a cracked finger bone and is unlikely to play in the second Test at Lord's.Reuse content