Wimbledon `99: Time for Tim, the emotion man

Henman's new-found maturity serves him well. Rusedski just serves well.
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The Independent Online
AS EVER, they won in their different ways on Friday. Only the objective is the same, to be around when Wimbledon reaches its climax next weekend. Both Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski are agreed that to have survived the first week, with its quirky demands and potential disasters, is perhaps the biggest thing. "If you're through to the second week you're in with a shout," was how Henman put it.

Shouting was not much in evidence during Henman's four-set win over Sebastien Grosjean which put him into the fourth round. Played in the bright light of a perfect summer day, it drew precision applause, rather than frenzy, from the sun-hatted audience. It was later in the evening, when Rusedski was finally given his opportunity to breathe in the atmosphere of Centre Court, that the younger people were able to get into the seats and vent their raucous feelings as Rusedski blew aside Magnus Norman to maintain his three-match streak of not having dropped serve.

It has been, according to Henman's coach, David Felgate, a good week for his man. "Things went as planned. The only thing you would have liked to avoid was the lapse against the first guy he faced [Arnaud Di Pasquale]. But I don't think he used up any luck in the first week and that's important. You get only so many chances in a Grand Slam, so don't use them up early."

What has come across strongly, as Britain's twin hopes moved along confidently, has been the massive increase in maturity. Both have exuded the confidence that this is where they belong and winning is what they are about. Some of Henman's court craft has been breathtaking; he has been getting into position at speed for the volleys and tucking them away. After his wobbles in Nottingham, Rusedski has served at the summit of his ability, backing up that fearsome weapon with excellence on the return and a single-mindedness which contrasts starkly with his off-court cheeriness.

So who will undertake the harder journey tomorrow? Will it be Henman, facing the American Davis Cup hero and big-time grinder-out of victories, Jim Courier? Or will it be Rusedski, against a mirror-image basher of the service delivery, Mark Philippoussis, in the sort of battle in which two grown men throw rocks at each other until one falls over?

Courier beat Henman (and Rusedski, too, as it happens) in that unforgettable Davis Cup tie in April, so there is revenge in the air. "I hope Tim and Jim have a ding-dong batle and Tim wins, but in the big picture tennis will be the winner," said Felgate. Henman admitted, "I want to win this match desperately. But Jim is a big match player, though there is a great contrast between our two games. He's going to be spending the majority of his time on the baseline and I'm going to try to get forward as much as possible."

There will inevitably be a question mark over Courier's stamina after he was taken to hospital on Friday night suffering from dehydration after another of his specialty marathon matches. The red-headed man from Florida will also be playing both Henman and the audience. "But Jim actually likes an adverse crowd," said Rusedski. "He is a tremendous player, he's done everything, he's been number one, won two Grand Slams. If we do half as well as him we won't be too bad."

On the matter of Henman's maturity, Felgate had this to say: "Previously, we hoped he could win here. He knows he has enough to win it. That doesn't mean he will do so but if he brings his best to the court the guy who beats Tim will need to play a great match. It is nice that so many people believe he has the ability to win it but compliments don't win championships. I do believe he can win it but none of us is thinking beyond Monday.

"Tim has matured, he is comfortable about expressing his emotions. Keeping it all inside worked against him previously, and that was something we discussed. When I'm watching him I clench my fist now and give him encouragement, `Come on, Henners', things like that. He deserves every encouragement within the rules. Seven years we have been together now, it goes beyond coaching.

"This has been the best Wimbledon for us so far. In the past he has had epic matches or he has played terribly. But this time he played well at Queen's, came within a point of winning it, and now he is through to the second week with some good competitive tennis."

Rusedski has beaten the 6ft 5in Philippoussis both times they have met, though it is significant that four of the six sets played were tie-breaks. "Mark takes a little bit more risk than I do on his serve," said Greg, "especially on his second serve. But it is a tremendous action, one of the best in the world. I don't think mine is too bad either, so there's not much difference. You just hope you wake up in the morning and see everything the size of a football. If that works out, then you're feeling good."

However, as Felgate points out, "It's as simple as being in the draw on Wednesday. Then you are three matches from it. Getting into the second week is one tournament. The next two rounds are another tournament. When you get to the semis you are really performing."

And if it goes that far, which Briton can go the distance? Here is Danny Sapsford's opinion: "At the top level you need one weapon. Tim has a nice all-round game but no real weapon. Greg has."

Andrew Longmore talks to Jim Courier, page 4