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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK

Return to Henmania?

Twenty-three year old Tim Henman may be Britain's No 2 in tennis terms but for many of his fans queuing at Wimbledon this week he is the one and only.

[ image: One fan only has eyes for Tim]
One fan only has eyes for Tim
The last Briton to win the men's singles at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936. Each year the nation holds its breath in the hope that England can once again show the world how to play tennis.

In 1997 it was not to be. Henman - and his Canadian born rival, Britain's No 1 Greg Rusedski - lost to unseeded opponents in the quarter-finals of the men's singles.

Nevertheless, Henman's boyish looks and quintessential English cool has attracted an army of supporters, often young and female.

Last year he was voted the most popular player at Wimbledon by the spectators. Henman T-shirts sold out and the young sportsman often had to be accompanied by several policemen to prevent him from being mobbed. The phenomenon is called "Henmania".

The people's pro

[ image: The tennis star has supporters all over the world]
The tennis star has supporters all over the world
A Henman fan club, which claims members from Australia, China, Israel, Belgium and the Netherlands, was established in 1996 when Henman became the first Englishman to get as far as the quarter-finals in over 20 years.

"After 1996 there were literally sacks of fan mail," said Jean Tyson, one of the club's founders.

Ms Tyson, who admits that she is "old enough to be Tim's mother" said that a lot of the fans are teenage girls. But that's understandable because "after all he's not bad looking."

Tennis in the blood

[ image: Tim in training at the age of 13]
Tim in training at the age of 13
Henman started playing the tennis almost as soon as he could walk. With a racket in his hand at the age of three, he was following in a family tradition.

Both his parents played tennis to county standard and his grandfather Henry Billington, was a regular Wimbledon competitor reaching the third round in 1948, 1950 and 1951.

His great grandmother, Ellen Mary Stowell-Brown, also played at Wimbledon. She is reputed to have been one of the first women to serve over-arm at the championship.

At school, Henman excelled at sport and won a tennis scholarship. But he was dogged during childhood with osteochondritus, a disease of the joints. He still has pins in one leg after breaking it in 1993.

Match points

[ image: Tim gives his fans what they want]
Tim gives his fans what they want
In 1995 Henman courted controversy when he was disqualified from the championships when a ball he smacked in anger hit a ball girl. Strangely, the incident only helped to endear Henman to his fans: he apologised, bought the girl flowers and gave her a kiss.

By the end of 1996 Henman was ranked No 29 in the world and the British No 1. He was the first British player to finish in the Top 30 since Buster Mottram was ranked No 19 in 1982.

He also became the first Briton to reach the Wimbledon quarter-final since Roger Taylor reached the semi-finals in 1973. Henman also earned a silver medal that year in the doubles at the Atlanta Olympics.

Last year, Henman looked to be in great form at Wimbledon when he defeated the 1996 champion Richard Krajicek. But he followed that victory with a loss in straight sets to the retiring 1991 champion Michael Stich.

Onward and upward?

[ image: Tim winning the British National Championships in 1997]
Tim winning the British National Championships in 1997
Henman has run into a few problems this year. At the French Open last month he was forced to retire from the match against Armenia's Sargis Sargsian on the opening day with back problems.

In January he made it to the Adidas international final in Sydney only to lose to Slovak Karol Kucera ranked at 225. This was only a few hours after he had defeated the world No 2, Patrick Rafter. Henman lost eight of nine games in a row against Kucera and smashed his racket in a fit of temper.

A few days later he was out in the first round of the Australian Open against French qualifier Jerome Golmard. Henman called that defeat the worst of his career.

Last week there was also disappointment when he lost at Queens in the quarter-finals to Laurence Tieleman of Belgium.

There are high hopes that he will do better at Wimbledon. Bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering odds of 20 -1 on Tim Henman being champion this year, 7-1 on an Englishman winning the final before the year 2000. Just five years ago the odds for a Briton winning were a staggering 500-1.

Henman's fans are hopeful that he won't disappoint.

"Who knows?" said Jean Tyson. "He's looking pretty good, he's looking confident ... but there are so many factors. I have high hopes for him at Wimbledon in the next three to four years."

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Anyone for tennis?

Great moments in love

Return to Henmania?

Wimbledon's green and pleasant land

Ladies win less at Wimbledon

In Wimbledon v World Cup the score is Love All

Women's fashion hits the courts

Racket science and the hard sell

Net calls from Wimbledon