Wimbledon 2014: Tim Henman’s heart is with Roger Federer (but his head is with Novak Djokovic)
But the former British No 1 claims his head says Novak Djokovic will win this year's men's final
When Tim Henman first came up against a Swiss teenager called Roger Federer, who was being touted as the next big thing, he wondered for some time if all the hype was misplaced. “I beat him six out of the first seven times we played,” he recalled, “and I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.”
Two of those victories were in Federer’s own backyard in Basle, and even the first defeat was on a retirement. From there, however, the pattern changed so dramatically that in their next and final six meetings, Henman did not win a single one of the 15 sets against an opponent of whom he now says: “He is for me the best that’s ever played the game.”
For that reason the former British No 1’s heart will be with him in this year’s final, even if his head says that Novak Djokovic, the man he tipped before the tournament, will be holding the coveted silver cup some time in late afternoon. “Djokovic is very clever at playing well enough,” says Henman. “I don’t think he’s playing brilliantly and I think he’ll raise his game. What always impresses me is that he has had tough losses in finals but he always does enough. When it gets to the latter stages he can raise his level and get the victory.
“He has played well but I think there is more in the tank. If he can show that, he will be tough to beat. When you get to this stage, with players as good as they are, it is about who plays best on the day. It is something you want to control but against the top players it is something that is not in your control”
That, of course, was how Henman found it in the most famous match of his 15 years on the circuit, the 2001 Wimbledon semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic, when he was two points from victory but lost after a series of breaks for rain took the contest into a third day. His quarter-final opponent that year, already pushing him hard, was a young Federer, who will be 33 in August, the age at which Henman retired.
Not that he feels there is any chance of the seven-times champion following suit, whether or not he takes Pete Sampras’s Wimbledon record. “I think he will play until 2030,” Henman smiled. “It is amazing to me. He’s nearly 33, he has two sets of twins, he’s travelling with four kids and he still has the motivation, the hunger and the desire to keep winning. When I look at him and I see how much he enjoys it, he should play as long as he can because it is the best job in the world.”
Talk about the changing of the guard, as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were beaten this Wimbledon by hungry, younger men, has subsided a little since Djokovic and Federer came through without great discomfort against Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic in Friday’s semi-finals.
Henman found that new-order talk “a bit premature” but adds: “What is good is that you can see the next group of guys pushing up. To have the likes of Dimitrov, Raonic, [Kei] Nishikori, this guy [Nick] Kyrgios is great for the game because the reality is that the big four won’t be around for ever. So it’s important that the future stars are making a name for themselves.” But not on Sunday afternoon.
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