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Two players, one quest: why it is now or never at Wimbledon
By Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent


IT IS two months until Wimbledon, two months for Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski to shake off the worst self-doubt of their tennis careers and offer the tiniest sliver of hope that Great Britain has a last chance of one of them becoming the singles champion before the nation writes off the entire absurd notion for another ten years.

Those gathering in the morning will peer across the lush green acres, cast their minds forward and wonder whose turn it will be this year. Henman will be in Munich preparing to compete in his fifth tournament of the year, the BMW Open, knowing that he has won just once in the previous four; Rusedski will probably be at Queen’s for the start of another week spent anguishing over the appropriate moment to end his seven-month exile from the tour.

These two, who once resented each other to the point of direct avoidance, now share a common purpose: to shake off the anxiety gnawing away at their sporting faith. Henman tries as hard as he can to ignore the impact of the injury to a right shoulder that will never be what it once was; and Rusedski, bits of whose body have broken so many times, knows better than anyone that one more operation probably means the end.

The curse was laid on both players in the United States last summer, when Henman confessed that he had not done enough to protect his shoulder from the rigours of subtle changes to his service action and Rusedski was troubled by his feet before he lost to Pete Sampras in the third round of the US Open, since when he has neither been seen by nor spoken to anyone in the British tennis press. The only message is a weekly “he’s not ready yet” bulletin from his PR organisation.

Pat Cash, who coached Rusedski for six months before they had a bitter falling out, crossed paths with him last week and said — through gritted teeth — that his former pupil looked in decent shape. “He’s doing a lot of work on the clay, but that doesn’t mean much because it’s easier on the body,” the former Wimbledon champion said. “I can’t believe he’s aiming for the French Open. This has to be geared for the grass. He gets so much more out of his serve there and I hear he’s serving well.

“He’s bound to be a bit rusty wherever he comes back, but both of them are good grass-court players so they can win matches on it, especially considering how few good grass-courters there are any more. Henman can do it in his sleep, however well he’s been in the meantime. Just so long as his shoulder holds up.”

Cash and Rusedski do not speak and Henman prefers to do his talking these days via a third party, in this case his own website, where he can set the agenda rather than have it determined for him. It was intriguing, then, to see the Great Britain No 1 admitting this week that he is “desperate” for matches, not a word he often uses. “There is no doubt it has been difficult to play with the same level of confidence I had prior to the surgery,” he said. “The challenge is to try to break the cycle.”

They know, deep down, that if another championship slides by, their opportunity is all but lost. And the prospects are as wide open as they were last year, when the final was played out between baseliners, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian. Two former champions, Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic, are expected to return for one final thrash, while Andre Agassi, who became the world No 1 again this weekend on the eve of his 33rd birthday, is going to be favoured to win 11 years after his initial title.

All Henman and Rusedski can do is wait and hope that they get the feeling back in their bodies. It is 12 years since Britain failed to have a man through to the second week of the championships and it would be the nation’s ill-luck that the year the LTA decided to make it harder for the also-rans to qualify for a place in the main draw should coincide with the moment when the big two cannot make it for themselves. And that would lead to inevitable inquests about why Britain failed to appreciate the pair of them when it had the chance.

Best of British?

1. TIM HENMAN (30). One win in four tournaments this year (before Munich) but a recent MRI scan says his shoulder is no worse


2. GREG RUSEDSKI (70). Not played since last September when he lost to Sampras at the US Open


3. ARVIND PARMAR (189). Lanky right-hander looking for a new sense of direction in career after deciding to spend a year without a coach


4. MARTIN LEE (279). Left-hander still not back on the circuit after an operation on his knee late last year


5. ALAN MACKIN (337). Willing Scot who made his Davis Cup debut in Australia in February, but has not made many strides since


6. MARK HILTON (376). Spirited but diminutive left-hander always going to struggle through lack of real power


7. RICHARD BLOOMFIELD (430). Tall right-hander who has made more impressive strides than most on his transition to the senior ranks


8. JAMIE DELGADO (433). A Henman contemporary who has slid dramatically down the rankings
 

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Pooyack!!! British Tennis, I cant believe it, Henman was all over the papers about how he is preparing for a Wimby comeback...
 

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ALAN MACKIN (337)
MARK HILTON (376)
RICHARD BLOOMFIELD (430)

no wonder i never heard of these guys.

good article. kinda scary tho'
 

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last chance ???????? when was the 1st chance ???
i can't ever remember them having a chance before :eek:
 

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Tim is my favorite player. :kiss: I hope Tim or Greg (or both) will be playing Bangkok Open, first ATP tourney in Bangkok Thailand.
 
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