'Time is running out. He has to go away and work incredibly hard'

Where does Tim go from here? Ronald Atkin opens a debate with three tennis experts and keen Henman watchers
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The Independent Online

Is this the end of Tim Henman's ambitions of winning Wimbledon?

Tony Pickard: I would not say this is the end, but obviously time is running out. This time next year I am likely to say "Yes, it is". Once you hit the 30-year mark you have to look at it realistically, though we don't mature as tennis players as early as in other countries. But I think he has to go away now and work unbelievably hard.

David Lloyd: No, I think he has got another two years. But I don't think he played as well this year as three or four years ago for the simple reason he doesn't serve as hard. He doesn't get enough cheap points any more.

John Barrett: No, because he has proved often enough that he can get within reach of the final. But with each passing year the chance gets less likely. The only thing is, never underestimate a man with determination, ambition and ability. Older people have won this tournament. Arthur Gore won it for the third time in 1909 when he was 38, and they would have told you in those days it was just as hard to win Wimbledon.

Is the national expectation too great a burden for one player to carry?

Pickard: If you are good enough, the answer to that is no. I think Tim thrives on it as long as all is going well, but he would be a lot better off if people stopped shouting so much, though they mean well and are wanting him to succeed. But I don't think they are doing him any favours. When I was with Stefan Edberg and the Swedes did all that rhythmic clapping between points, it never helped him.

Lloyd: No. His record proves that is not the case; his record is still very good. I think the expectation helps him. Sportsmen love to go on court knowing 95 per cent of the audience are going to be cheering for them. I don't think expectation is anything to do with it. The reason he lost was that the tools he has right now are not good enough to win. The courts have been slowed and the balls are heavier. He has to work more on his game, serve better. He had one serve at 112mph but there were too many at 93, 94. That's 20 per cent difference.

Barrett: It is. I am full of admiration for the way he handles it. It has to be an awful pressure, though he doesn't admit it. It is unreasonable, but it is inevitable that, with such a gap since Fred Perry's days, the expectation will be so high. It is revved up by us in the media; it becomes almost hysterical.

What facets of Henman's game can be improved and how?

Pickard: His serve is a lot better than 12 months ago, but there is still room for improvement to get it back approximately to where it was before. I don't think, with respect, anybody did him any favours when they changed it. For me, he is not quick enough and doesn't ask the questions often enough, yet he has all the ammunition in his game to do that.

Lloyd: I spoke to Larry Stefanki [Henman's coach] when I played golf with him and Tim recently. I told him I felt Tim was throwing the ball too far over his head on the serve and not far enough forward, and he agreed. He has to become more frontal on his serve so he gets round the ball and keeps it low and not bouncing so high. These guys have better groundstrokes now and they pounce on those high balls. It means altering his serve, and he will have to realise he is going to serve more double-faults, but it is his second serve they are munching. When you played Goran Ivanisevic, nobody could return his serve. Now there are not even three or four people in the Wimbledon draw like him or Pete Sampras. Everybody is smacking all these returns. That's a fact of life, so Tim has to change his game, because he is still one of the best movers.

Barrett: It's his serve, that's the key to everything with Tim. If you are going to be a serve-volleyer you had better have a good serve. It makes the volley rather difficult otherwise. And that is what happened against Sebastien Grosjean. The sad thing is that physically Tim is a lightweight. He is never going to be able to hit the ball like a Boris Becker or from a huge height like the Croatian Ivo Karlovic. Which is not to say he can't improve the serve if the shoulder permits. That's the big question.

Should Henman take on more or different coaching expertise or advice?

Pickard: Only he can answer that. Only he knows whether he is getting the right advice. Everybody can have their own opinions, but at the end of the day only he knows the answer.

Lloyd: No. Stefanki is a very qualified man. He has added a lot to Tim's game. If someone had asked me three years ago to identify Tim's weakness, I would have said, two things: his second serve, and his forehand under pressure. That's why I would have recommended him taking on Stefan Edberg to help him at the big tournaments, because Edberg used to have a poor second serve and a dodgy forehand. Then Stefan learned how to get an enormous kick on his second serve and looped his forehand into play. Three years ago that's what Tim should have done. If you had said to me three years ago Tim would lose on Centre Court to Grosjean I would have bet my house on that not happening, and I know I wouldn't have lost. There's the difference. I don't think Tim's play has kept up with the times on grass - you can't go into the net behind a 93mph serve. Maybe his arm is hurting more than we think.

Barrett: He has got to find someone he believes in. If that person is Larry Stefanki, then stay with him. The relationship between player and coach is a very delicate thing which can so easily go wrong if confidence is lost. I am not sure, though, it is a matter of coaching. He knows well enough how to play the game now, it is a question of being able to execute what he knows he should do. Considering the physique he has, he has done exceptionally well at Wimbledon, and I think he will go on improving until he is 32. The British tend to be late winners. My own wife [Angela Mortimer] was 29 when she won Wimbledon.

Tony Pickard, David Lloyd and John Barrett, the BBC commentator, have all played for and captained Britain's Davis Cup team.