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Henman still struggling at 'foreign' Slams

August 20, 2003 13:08 IST
Ten years as a professional and with an album full of mini triumphs and tragedies, it was a safe bet that Manhattan would suffer a total blackout before Tim Henman won a Grand Slam title.

Just because an unthinkable power outage in the world's most advanced city has actually happened, however, does not mean the British number one can now surge to that elusive honour -- at the US Open of all majors.

For his critics, the mere sight of Henman striding out for a match beyond the fourth round at a 'foreign' Slam would represent a minor miracle.

The personification of consistency at home on Wimbledon's lawns, where he has reached the semi-final four times in six years, his return at the three other Slams is embarrassing.

He is the sort of competitor who can get dumped out in the first round without so much as a whimper, and then -- when everyone's back is turned -- secure another title with a week of flawless tennis.

It was like that in Washington earlier this month, when, against expectations, he won his first tournament in 18 months, beating in-form American Andy Roddick along the way.

That was Roddick's only defeat in 21 hardcourt matches, but Henman will do well to translate that highlight into glory at Flushing Meadows.

Cruelly, serious injuries -- including a shoulder operation which caused him to miss the start of this season --

have gnawed away at his game, which is strongest when he is ripping his serve and dominating at the net.

Add to that years of mental frailty which have constantly undermined his best efforts and you have a man whose place in the tennis firmament is difficult to pinpoint.

The figures do little to help, either.

He has a career high ranking of four and finished number eight last year, but has slipped considerably in the rankings and lost last week in the first round of the Cincinnati Masters Series to Guillermo Coria, a player most comfortable on clay.

"In terms of the bigger picture of my career, I think I've still got four or five years left," said Henman after this year's Wimbledon.

"It's difficult to judge where my game would be if I had not had to have surgery at the end of last year.

"But what I know is that, while I am relaxed at Wimbledon -- despite the pressure -- I think when I go to the other tournaments I should actually be more carefree."

There will certainly be no pressure on him when the US Open begins on August 25, especially as he is unseeded.

He may well be packing his bags before the second week, giving more fuel to his critics, but they should remember that Henman has given British tennis a modicum of pride across a decade, and there is no shame in that.

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