Wimbledon `97: Henman has his eyes on place in history

WIMBLEDON 97: Britain's No 1 beats defending champion to join Rusedski in last eight in best British men's performance for 26 years
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The Independent Online
British tennis triumphs have been written about historically for so long that it is hardly surprising that they are now being chronicled hysterically.

Two home players have emerged who are capable of lifting the men's singles trophy, the nation's fervent hope being that one is only defeated by the other.

Tim Henman, from Oxford, joined the Montreal-born Greg Rusedski in the quarter-finals yesterday, eliminating Richard Krajicek, the defending champion, in the process of becoming the only surviving seed in the lower half of the draw.

The dry-throated possibility is that Henman and Rusedski will advance to play each other in the semi-finals, one of them becoming the first men's finalist to represent the host country since Bunny Austin was in short trousers in 1938.

Dare we even imagine that a British name is about to be written in gold leaf on the honours board 61 years after Fred Perry? Best take each surprise as it comes.

For the first all-British semi-final since Randolph Lycett defeated Brian Gilbert in 1922 to materialise, Henman, the No 14 seed, must overcome the unseeded, but never to be underrated, Michael Stich, of Germany, and Rusedski's mighty serve will have to disabuse the talented Frenchman, Cedric Pioline.

The only certainty, unless the weather causes a rethink, is that neither of those matches will be played on the Centre Court. The matters of immediate national concern will be resolved on the new No 1 Court.

On Centre Court, Pete Sampras, the American world No 1, will renew his eight-year rivalry with Germany's Boris Becker, a fellow three-times champion.

The Sampras-Becker confrontation, described by the other competitors as the match of the round, if not the championships, has been scheduled between the two women's semi-finals.

"There is no way with the six matches that we have to play in the singles tomorrow that we could please everyone," said Alan Mills, the tournament referee, whose weather eye watered like a tap towards the end of the opening week.

"I think I have done my best to be fair to everyone," Mills added, "bearing in mind that the weather forecast for tomorrow is not good, and the fact that all the men have to come back the following day.

"We will endeavour to put them all on as early as possible on show courts big enough to take their matches. The ladies semi-finals deserve to be on Centre Court, so that means there is only room for one other singles match there. We want to give all the men a chance to play and finish."

Rusedski, who played his opening match against Mark Philippoussis on Centre Court, has since made No 1 Court his home base. Henman, having opening No 1 Court with his match against Daniel Nestor, has spent the rest of his time on Centre Court. Today's Henmania will simply transfer to another coop.

Yesterday's Centre Court spectators gave full throat to their appreciation of Henman's fourishing finish to the victory against Krajicek, which was three-quarters completed on Tuesday night.

Once Henman had broken to love for 3-2 in the fourth set, he experienced only one tricky moment, saving a break point with a service winner to hold for 5-3, and serving out to love two games later to win, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.

"For the sustained quality of tennis, this is some of the best I've ever played," Henman said.

Krajicek was not inclined to disagree, although the Dutchman did express disappointment with his own performance. "I didn't play well today," he said. "I played even worse than yesterday."

He admitted he had wanted the match suspended overnight as soon as he broke Henman in the third set. "It was not perfect light any more, so I asked for the referee to come out. But it's a long way, you know, to go from the referee's office, because it took him seven games to come down. It didn't matter, it's just the way it is."

Krajicek had no complaints concerning the crowd's partisanship. "It was unbelievably loud, of course, but what I liked about this crowd was that when you start playing you don't hear a sound. You have a lot of annoying crowds, especially in the [United] States where they just keep on talking and shouting the whole time.

"This crowd is maybe noisier than every other crowd that I ever met, but as soon as the point starts you can hear a pin drop." Or a defending champion.

George Bush was in the Royal Box, although there was greater need of the former US President's support on No 1 Court, where Sampras was struggling to rid himself of the Czech, Petr Korda.

The American had two match points in a third set tie break but was taken to a fifth set, eventually winning, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. "I think he used a lot of energy today," Korda said. "I don't know if he's going to miss that tomorrow."