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Showers force British, Henman to be patient

Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England There was no need to be at Centre Court to follow Tim Henman's fortunes in his rain-suspended Wimbledon quarterfinal Wednesday.

Halfway across the All England Club, it was possible to sit through another start-stop-start-stop match on Court 1 and still tell how Britain's great hope was faring by simply listening to the thousands of fans watching Henman on a giant TV screen outside.

From a slope officially known as Aorangi Terrace but popularly dubbed Henman Hill, screams, applause and whistles signaled a point won by their hero.

A collective groan or ''Aaawww'' signaled a point lost.

Why follow one Grand Slam quarterfinal when you can keep up with two?

Alas, three rain delays totaling nearly four hours, then darkness there are no lights on the courts conspired to halt both matches before they finished.

It all added up to more angst for a nation that's been waiting 67 years for a British man to win Wimbledon.

When play was halted, drawing boos from the crowd, the 10th-seeded Henman trailed No. 13 Sebastien Grosjean 7-6 (8), 3-6, 6-3, 1-2. On Court 1, Mark Philippoussis who upset Andre Agassi in the fourth round had rallied from a two-set deficit and was serving with a two-point lead against Alexander Popp at 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 2-2, 30-love.

''It's very slippery out there now,'' tournament referee Alan Mills said in explaining his decision to stop play. ''It is dangerous for the players.''

So they will head back out Thursday, which now boasts a packed schedule. In addition to Henman-Grosjean and Philippoussis-Popp, there are two quarterfinals that never began: Andy Roddick vs. Jonas Bjorkman, and Roger Federer vs. Sjeng Schalken.

And there are the women's semifinals: Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Venus Williams vs. Kim Clijsters.

Action on show courts starts at 12 p.m., an hour earlier than usual. The forecast called for light rain in the morning and early afternoon, with the possibility of sunshine later.

Schalken, for one, was pleased to see the showers. He has an infected left foot and wanted the extra rest.

''I'm really glad that we play in England,'' Schalken said, smiling.

Playing in England is a boon and bane for Henman.

He's the beneficiary of tremendous flag-waving support during matches, the sort that gets adrenaline pumping. Indeed, he was a Wimbledon semifinalist four of the past five years but never made even the quarterfinals at another Grand Slam.

Then again, Henman also must deal with the weight of expectations. There have been reports that a parade in his honor already is being planned if he becomes the first Englishman to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Plus, the media love to build him up, then beat him down.

The Guardian newspaper's supplement Wednesday featured a digitally altered photo on the cover showing Henman hoisting the championship trophy, with the headline, ''Is this the year?'' Inside, 20 people, from politicians to ''The ladies of the Wimbledon Championship information desk'' offered takes on whether Henman will do them proud.

Oona King, a member of Parliament, said: ''I think Tim will win, and I think England will win the next World Cup, and I think I just saw a flying pig.''

Hmmmmm.

The opening set against Grosjean was a microcosm of the years of anticipation and frustration Henman generates.

Snapping passing shots, Grosjean claimed a 4-1 lead in 15 minutes before the first rain delay. Play resumed an hour later, but only for 4 1/2 minutes long enough for Grosjean to break Henman again before another 37-minute rain break.

Henman knows about dealing with such conditions, naturally. Perhaps his most excruciating exit came in the 2001 semifinals against Goran Ivanisevic (all of Henman's semifinal losses were to the eventual champion), in a rain-ravaged match that began Friday, continued for 52 minutes Saturday, and finished Sunday.

''I look back at that match and I reflect on it a lot,'' Henman said last week. ''I ask myself whether I should have done anything differently. And the answer is, 'No.' It was difficult. It wasn't that much fun sleeping those nights, coming back at different stages of the match.''

Henman came back out after Wednesday's second delay a new player. He stole four straight games to reach 5-5, and the fans' torture really began in the tiebreaker.

Henman raced to a 6-3 advantage, then promptly wasted the three set points with a volley long (Groan!), a volley in the net (Groan!) and a backhand wide (Aaawww!).

He held a fourth set point at 8-7, but erased it with a backhand in the net. Grosjean claimed the set with a lunging volley followed by a forehand winner.

Out on Henman Hill, Bill Henry of Bath followed it all closely.

''We had thunder and lightning at one point the British don't move,'' Henry said. ''We just sat there and suffered. Watching Henman, we're suffering anyway.''



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