Tim holds court in fond farewell

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The Independent Online

He had the Hill all to himself on Thursday, except for Sue Barker and a BBC camera team doing one last interview, paying one last tribute to Timothy Henry Henman, the only sportsman ever to have half a mountainside named after him. Even Fred Perry only got a statue.

A small group doing the guided tour of Wimbledon got their admission money's worth in that single moment, emerging from a visit to Court One and blinking their disbelief in the sunshine at the vision of Henman high up there on his hill, master of almost all he ever surveyed at the All England Club's manicured acres.

Twenty-four hours later, Henman would be down from the hill but still on a high, amid distinctly un-Wimbledon scenes of wild jubilation on Court One, giving Britain a 2-0 Davis Cup lead over Croatia and then indulging in a gesture from the Andre Agassi repertoire by kneeling to kiss the turf on which, for the last 14 years, his tennis had spanned the range from brilliant to banal. If indication was needed that this was a special day, it came with the sight of Tim's father Tony, the epitome of dignity, decorum and bank manager correctness, tieless and in tears at courtside.

Henman had entered, one arm raised, to the sort of frenzied ovation demanded by his captain, John Lloyd, muffling the whirr of drills and slam of hammers on the nearby, new-look Centre Court. He left, after autographing four balls and whacking them high into the audience, with both arms upthrust, prizefighter fashion, and then applauding his applauders, the way footballers do when they are being substituted. Those 14 years had, he said afterwards, been quite a journey.

It was a journey I have been fortunate enough to spend in the company of one of Britain's most talented and gracious athletes, from the moment I arrived unannounced and in search of an interview at a Challenger tournament in Andorra one winter afternoon early in 1994, to see what sort of a job the youngster was making of a comeback from a horrific, freak accident in Singapore the previous September, when he broke a leg in three places near the ankle doing nothing more risky than pushing off the baseline.

A good job, was the answer, one which became more impressive by the match and the month until, by George, it came to pass that in Britain we possessed a world-class tennis player, the best since Perry. Tim never achieved the Perry hat-trick of Wimbledons; surely no Briton ever will. He didn't even win one but he came very close, and virtually on an annual basis, too. Every year public and press demanded a good show, and got one. Victory, no, consistency, yes. And it came in a friendly, unassuming, approachable package which did credit to his profession and his homeland.

Roger Federer, who phoned him on Friday with good wishes, calls Tim "a class act," a perfect example of the old saw that it takes one to know one. So what now for Henners? "What will you be doing on Monday?" he was asked by a Croatian journalist. "Off to Stamford Bridge to hand in my CV," he grinned. More seriously, "It's going to be a new beginning, one I'm very excited about, just having had another baby. I want to take a step back and not have to plan ahead. I want to be able to be with my family, play some golf [he is a three handicap] and take some holidays. I don't envisage making a commitment [about the future] until I have had some time to make an assessment."

Having had most of this year to consider his options because of problems with his back, Henman asked advice of people like Agassi and Pete Sampras. On Friday evening, having enjoyed a near-perfect Davis Cup occasion, he confirmed what we all know; his future lies in tennis "in some way, shape or form".

Any job in British tennis would be his for the asking, and he knows it. Whether he will choose to come back on the Senior Tour, as so many have done, is debatable. Guest and charity occasions, maybe, but Henman is not interested in becoming a travelling coach. "I don't enjoy being away for long periods of time any more." Maybe, he smiled, in four or five years' time when daughters Rosie, Olivia and Grace have grown a bit, he will be glad to get out of the house, but for the time being this weekend is it, curtain-call time.

As Henman smote a couple of sublime volleys on Friday, the man from the Mirror turned to me and said, "Are we sure this bloke should be retiring?" We aren't, but, sadly, he is. Emotional farewells on successive days, he reckons, are enough.

The final day of the Davis Cup tie is on BBC2 from 11.30am-12.30pm, then on digital