THE woman sitting behind me sighed: “Why does he do this to us?” We’d all been here before.
Having had it in his grasp, Tim Henman was on his way to losing a first set tie-break with a double fault. Suddenly the skies darkened and a chill wind blew around Court One.
Our boy eventually claimed victory at the end of five sets, but it took three hours and 14 minutes before we could be certain there would be no first round disaster.
Less than an hour into the action, those predicting the end of Henmania were looking smug. It was all of 14 minutes before the first cry of “come on Tim” finally rang out from the crowd.
Swede Robin Soderling clenches his fist a little too often for the regulars at SW19. But where was Tiger Tim’s roar – and had his public deserted him?
British tennis fans like nothing more than a good fightback. Even the young man with a mop sent to clear latent rainwater from the stands sat down and stayed for the whole of the third set, until his boss arrived.
Two sets to one up, Henman immediately lost his serve. The calls of support grew more impatient. By the time he was four one down, Tim was clearly concentrating on a final fifth set.
Having raised his supporters to something on the incline approaching a mild frenzy, the atmosphere fell as flat as the ridiculous caps the line umpires are now given to wear. Ralph Lauren, the American designer behind the new navy and cream outfits, obviously does not own a copy of The Rubettes’ 1974 chart topper Sugar Baby Love.
But embarking on his 13th grass court campaign, Henman is still a wily Wimbledon performer. He started the fifth set with an ace. Before long the crowd’s cheers were drowning out American umpire Steve Ullrich each time he called a home winner. Looking down on The Rubettes, the cream piping on his blue blazer marked him down as head boy at Hogwarts. I’m sure Steve will make time to thank Ralph when he gets back home.
As Soderling crumbled, two previously hidden Union Jacks appeared from the row of seats behind the umpire’s chair. Their owners waved them as frantically as they thought the club’s rules would allow. Not quite Henmania. But it’s a start.
“It feels really good to be playing a match here at Wimbledon with very little pressure and expectation,” Tim told us later in the press interview room. “I thought it was pretty routine as five sets go.” Well, yes, routine for him.
Tomorrow he faces his friend Roger Federer. They’re scheduled as the last match on Centre Court. If there is a good time to play the defending champion, the second round might be it, especially as Henman relishes the role of underdog. But not many give him a chance.
Whatever happens, Henman knows his Wimbledon days are numbered. As he gave a victory wave to the crowd, a female fan shouted: “Go on Tim. We love you.” Expect more flags.
* Fans of our German hero Benjamin Becker will be pleased to know he defeated Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela in four sets out on Court 11.
For more images go to Wylie’s Wimbledon 2006 Photos.