Richard Williams, father of the Williams sisters, last night warned British tennis fans to "get off Tim Henman's back" or risk destroying the country's leading tennis player. After watching his daughter Serena lose the women's final yesterday, Williams urged: "It is time the fans here realised the amount of pressure on that young man is just tremendous.
"When you have a whole country riding on your shoulders how can you cope with it, every day looking at the newspapers and seeing yourself on the front pages? He was in the locker room when I went there the other day and I felt like asking him how he survived under such pressure.
"I also spoke to Tim's parents just before the quarter-final [the defeat by Mario Ancic] and asked how they were standing up to it all. They said it must be just the same for me with Venus and Serena, but it's not. It's much worse for the Henmans.
"If he doesn't win, it seems like no one wants to talk to him. How can the fans of this country be that tough on him, yelling at him? One guy in the crowd the other day even had his hands together, praying. If he wins he's a god, if he loses he's a dog. I wonder what must be going through his mind. But if he ever wins this tournament, he could be the next king of England."
Williams thinks the expectation heaped on Henman, who was beaten by the unseeded Croat Ancic in the quarter-finals, could even be harming future British tennis prospects. "What's happening to Henman might be keeping a lot of British kids from coming into the game. When they see what's happening to him, who wants to volunteer to be the next victim?
"I wouldn't say that's the only reason why no young talent is making it on the tours, but it's about 70 per cent of the reason in my opinion. If I was a British boy or girl I wouldn't be interested in taking up tennis. Even when Mr Henman wins, if the win is not impressive they say 'He didn't look good'. How much can a human being take?
"I think he is playing the best tennis of anybody because nobody else at Wimbledon has that type of pressure. I notice that he has improved his serve a great deal, his movement around court is better. His courage and guts are stronger coming to the net.
"That's amazing considering what pressure everyone is putting on him. Tim Henman and Paul Annacone are working well together. Tim just had a bad day last Thursday. Everyone has a bad day now and then. Venus had a bad day in the second round. So you aren't going to get anyone coming through because of what is happening to Mr Henman. I don't think I could change that, or anyone else could."
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