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An Interview with Tim Henman

Image © Christopher Burns on Unsplash

When the finest racquet-holders in the world clash at SW19 this year, it will signal a decade since the Centre Court roars of 'C’mon Tim' were last heard, but the Oxford resident is still a leading figure in singles tennis… albeit from behind the microphone, as Culture Calling discovers.

‘It's certainly not a popularity contest,’ Tim Henman once said of these random shouts during Murray’s Wimbledon matches. ‘I don't think people are very good with change. I feel they were comfortable with watching my matches and the support I received and everything that went with it, and then Andy came along and people thought that he was a different character. People have had to take time to understand what he's about and who he is, but they’ve certainly done that now, and just look at what he’s achieved.’
While the cruel and ever so slightly tongue in cheek accusation of being ‘Scotland’s Andy Murray’ can be heard upon defeat, Oxford-born Henman was always seen as the poster boy of English intellectuals. Dishy for the housewives and the ultimate competitor for the male middle-class, he first set foot onto the Wimbledon courts in the summer of 1992 on the Junior Tour as a 17-year-old, but his defeat by Mexican Enrique Abaroa showed him it wouldn’t be quite so easy to transfer the skills he’d acquired on the family tennis court in Weston-on-the-Green to the most famous on the world circuit.
We all know the fickleness of British weather and in case of inclement conditions the famous Middle Sunday at Wimbledon – usually reserved as a rest day for the players who have made it through to compete in the second week of the tournament – is available to utilise for catching up in play.
Henman doesn’t see a problem with that and although it’s only been an occurrence in four previous years – 2016 being one of those occasions – he has played on two of them and one of his favourite wins has taken place on this exclusive day.
‘I played against Paul Haarhuis in 1997 in a very long match, which I won 14-12 in the fifth set. The atmosphere that day was something I had never before experienced. You take into account the fans who had queued up overnight to get tickets and it was so special.’
Over the course of his career Henman reached six Grand Slam semi-finals, all coming between 1998 and 2004, four of those at Wimbledon and all concluding in defeats to eventual champions – the American 14-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras in 1998 and 1999, Croatian Goran Ivanisevic in 2001 and Aussie Leyton Hewitt in 2002. 
In 2004, he reached the same stage of both the French and US Open tournaments, losing out on the clay of Roland Garos to Guillermo Coria in four sets, and the Flushing Meadows hard court of New York to ensuing winner and all-time Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer in three. 
Federer will be gunning for yet another Grand Slam to add to his 18, however he will go there as the current world number four, behind fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, Serbian Novak Djokovic and the aforementioned Murray. 
As one of the few men to have beaten Federer on Centre Court, Henman is in a good place to judge. However, he feels that this year could be the best yet, with some of the top names having a lot to prove. 
Well there are many stories certainly in the men’s game but I still come back to Rafa Nadal: is he going to be able to maintain his form from the early part of this year? Can Djokovic return to number one; he was number one for a couple of years before. Murray coming back from another injury, how is he going to fare and then someone like Federer, can he win another major? 
‘After his brilliant win in Australia, rolling back the years, he’s won 18 now and he’s not getting any younger. But, it’s not going to get any easier when you have players like Stan Wawrinka about, who’s won a couple of Grand Slams himself, which in itself has been an incredible achievement, not only for him but I think it was also a bit of a breakthrough for all the other players because the traditional Big Four have been so dominant. It just shows it can be done. It’s going to be great to watch this year.’
Although he would probably much rather still be out there battling with the best as in years gone by, Henman will be at SW19 behind the microphone and only Wimbledon can bring him out for punditry. 
‘I only do three weeks so I do two weeks at Wimbledon for the BBC, and as it was such a big part of my playing career, it’s sort of home from home.
‘But I don’t really see myself at this stage doing any more than that because if you do, then there’s probably a lot more travel involved. I’ve got a young family and I like being at home now in Oxfordshire, so doing Wimbledon and the World Tour finals is plenty for me.
‘I mean, Wimbledon is always going to be my highlight - it was my favourite tournament to play and I’m on the board at Wimbledon so it will always be my favourite tournament. I think it’s the tournament the players most want to win.’
Wimbledon begins on July 3, with the men’s singles final on July 16 and the women’s final the day before. Prior to that, Tim can be heard offering his expert opinion on the French Open, beginning on May 22. For bookings and more information about Tim Henman, see here.