Tim the temporary soloist cautious over McEnroe coaching offer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tim Henman is sailing solo these days. But for how much longer? A host of coaches have been linked with the British No 1, most notably John McEnroe, who is said to be interested in picking up where David Felgate left off in early April. Henman, though, has all but rejected what most players would view as the chance of a lifetime.

Speaking on his day off, Henman, who faces Todd Martin in the fourth round tomorrow, said: "I don't know how feasible it would be for me to work with Mac. The only way it could function would be if he was prepared to travel with me on tour for 35 weeks a year and somehow I can't see that happening. I certainly don't think it's right to work with someone exclusively at the Slams. You can't turn up for the big ones having done no hard work before."

Whether or not McEnroe, who has a lucrative career in broadcasting, would seriously consider dedicating himself fully to the Henman cause remains to be seen. Either way, Henman's response was typically low-key. And, most probably, well judged. Having decided to play through Wimbledon without a coach, he is anxious not to be distracted by talk of Felgate's replacement. In due course, he says, he will "sit down with an individual and talk about tennis as a whole to make sure we're singing from the same hymn sheet".

The Tim & Mac show will probably never come to fruition, but Henman insists that, when he does finally make a decision about a coach, he will get the right man. "I'm a pretty good judge of character," he said, looking relaxed. "I'd like to think that whoever I do choose will be good for me. I'm not going solo long-term. The game's difficult enough as it is without complicating matters further. I need to get a coach on board because there is still so much that I don't know."

One place which Henman does know inside out is the All England Club, where he has made it to the second week for six years running. The 26-year-old says he is in familiar territory. "This is exactly where I want to be. I feel more prepared than ever and I just want to give it my best. I felt weird not having David there by my side at Estoril on the clay, but at Wimbledon I know pretty much what I'm doing. There are people I could turn to in difficult moments, guys like Jeremy Bates, BillKnight and Roger Taylor, but I haven't felt the need so far.

"To be honest, I'm enjoying the challenge of doing this on my own. It's a different discipline, but I like trying to work the different aspects out for myself. Being alone means that you have to sit down and really think out your strategy, although it doesn't always work. Against Sjeng Schalken [in the third round], I had planned to be aggressive on his second serve, but then he started hitting the corners and I was forced to regroup. But I feel now that I have a better understanding of what I need to do on court, so I was able to make the necessary adjustments. It's tough, but then on the flip-side there's an extra bit of self-satisfaction in doing things alone."

The next conundrum facing Henman comes in the form of the 6ft 6in Martin, a two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist. Following a couple of injury-plagued seasons, the American is back to somewhere near his best form, and could cause Henman problems. He certainly has all the necessary weapons for the grass – a good serve, solid volley and decent return. Most significantly, he also has no pressure on him.

"The pressure won't affect me," said Martin, who leads Henman 3-2 in their career head-to-head, including a three-sets win in the 1996 quarters. Henman won their most recent encounter in the 1999 Davis Cup tie in Birmingham. "My half of the court is my half of the court. I'm excited about the match and as confident as I can be. The pressure Tim has to put up with over here is not something I would like to be subjected to. I've never had to walk around and see my face on light-poles, nor have I had to read about what weird quirks I have."

Henman, though, seems to thrive on the nation's expectations. "Playing on Centre Court is what kids, big kids and men dream about," he said. "I still remember the first time I came to Wimbledon at the age of five and thought, 'I want some of that'. Now, I've tasted it, I want more."

Comments