Tim Henman: Four Wimbledon Near Misses

Tim Henman in action at Wimbledon in 2002
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Throughout his career, Tim Henman carried Britain’s hopes for a first homegrown Wimbledon men’s singles champion since 1936 on his shoulders. But despite several valiant efforts from Henman, it was not until Andy Murray lifted the title in 2013 that a British man reigned at The Championships. That said, Henman deserves great credit for his achievements at the All England Club.

After all, he is one of only three British men to have reached a Wimbledon semifinal in the Open Era, Roger Taylor and Murray being the others. And whilst Taylor appeared in three semifinal at Wimbledon, Henman made it to the last four on four occasions. Henman also reached the quarter-finals on four other occasions and finished his career with an excellent 75.4% win percentage at The Championships. Here is a look back at his four semifinal showings at Wimbledon:

Tim Henman: Four Wimbledon Semifinals

1998 – Lost to Pete Sampras 3-6 6-4 5-7 3-6

The Oxford-born Henman was seeded 12th in 1998 and was making his fifth appearance at the All England Club. He started his campaign with a five-set win against Jiri Novak, before beating South Africa’s David Nainkin and Byron Black of Zimbabwe to reach the fourth round. There, he upset the reigning US Open champion and sixth seed Pat Rafter to reach his third Wimbledon quarterfinal in succession, where he dismissed the third seed Petr Korda in straight-sets.
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That set up a meeting with world #1 Pete Sampras. The American broke twice in the first set, with Henman double faulting to drop serve at 3-3. Henman responded well by breaking twice in the second set to level the match, despite dropping serve once himself. But Sampras, the defending champion, edged a third set, breaking Henman at the death after saving a game point with a forehand return winner. He then broke for 3-1 in the fourth and closed out the match with some strong serving.

1999 – Lost to Pete Sampras 6-3 4-6 3-6 4-6

The toughest test Henman faced en route to the 1999 semifinals was his epic fourth-round clash with Jim Courier, with Henman beating the American 9-7 in the fifth set. He backed that up with a four-set win over the Frenchman Cedric Pioline in the quarterfinals to set up a rematch with Sampras – again world #1 and defending champion. Sampras had beaten Henman 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-4) in the final at Queen’s just weeks earlier.
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But the Briton started strongly in SW19, breaking Sampras in both of his first two service games on his way to winning the opening set. But Sampras rallied in the second, with Henman double faulting when facing a third set point down 4-5. Thereafter, Sampras took control. The American broke Henman early in the third set and fought off Henman’s attempts to restore parity. In the fourth, Sampras broke to love at 4-4 and served out the match in the next game to seal his place in another Wimbledon final.

2001 – Lost to Goran Ivanisevic 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 6-0 6-7 (5-7) 3-6

After losing to future finalist Mark Philippoussis in the fourth round in 2000, Henman returned to Wimbledon in 2001 seeded sixth and with a point to prove. After easing through the first week for the loss of only one set, he battled past the USA’s Todd Martin in the last 16. Henman followed that win by beating Roger Federer, who had stunned Sampras in the previous round, in four sets in the quarterfinals. Awaiting him in the semifinals was Goran Ivanisevic.
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The Croatian had three times finished as runner-up at Wimbledon, but in 2001 was ranked 125th in the world and was playing as a wildcard after a succession of injuries. Nonetheless, it was Ivanisevic who drew first blood, breaking to win a close opening set with three consecutive return winners. Henman fought back in the second, winning it 8-6 in a tiebreak with an overhead smash winner. The Briton then stormed through the third set in under 15 minutes, losing only four points as he bagelled Ivanisevic.

But with Henman firmly in the ascendancy, leading 2-1 in the fourth, rain stopped play. When they returned, Henman forced a tiebreak and was two points from victory at 5-5, but it was Ivanisevic who edged it, seven points to five. Rain intervened again with Ivanisevic up 3-2 in the fifth set, dragging the tense contest into a third day. When play resumed, Ivanisevic broke in the eighth game and, despite double faulting twice, served it out to reach his fourth Wimbledon final, where he beat Rafter in five memorable sets.

2002 – Lost to Lleyton Hewitt 5-7 1-6 5-7

Henman was seeded fourth a year later and once again made his way to the second week comfortably enough. But in the last 16, he was taken the distance by Switzerland’s Michel Kratochvil, eventually prevailing 7-6 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2. He then beat Andre Sa of Brazil to reach his fourth and final semifinal at The Championships, where he faced Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, then ranked #1 in the world and seeking his second Grand Slam title after winning the US Open a year earlier.

In the first set, the pair exchanged breaks, before Hewitt broke again as Henman served to stay in it. That appeared to dent Henman’s confidence and Hewitt pressed his advantage, racing through the second set for the loss of just one game. Hewitt broke again early in the third, only for Henman to break back for 5-5 to stay in the match. But Henman dropped serve again in the next game and Hewitt made no mistake at the second time of asking, going on to beat David Nalbandian 6-1 6-3 6-2 in his first and only Wimbledon final.

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