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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Henman's big day falls flat

By Mark Orlovac
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Tim Henman stares defeat in the face
Watching Henman was not a pleasant experience for British fans

Watching Tim Henman at Wimbledon over the last few years evokes a host of clichés - "nail-biting", "roller-coaster" and "stomach-churning" to name but a few.

But none of these phrases came to mind as Henman was taken apart by Roger Federer in Wednesday's one-sided contest.

The writing was on the wall when the draw was made, placing the unseeded Henman against three-times champion Federer early on.

And the mood on "Henman Hill", so often a venue which captures the drama of Henman at Wimbledon, seemed to reflect the general fear that the Briton was on a hiding to nothing.

In the build-up to the match, the crowd were strangely flat.

There was no doubt the support was there - by the end there was hardly a space to sit or stand to watch the screen - but they seemed to gather in hope rather than in expectation.

The only trepidation was not that Henman would go out but that he would be on the wrong end of a thumping.

"He is going to get stuffed," said Nick Ripley from Teddington. "Federer has not lost in 42 games so we have to be realistic."

"Henman will lose," added Brett Racher from East London. "Federer is awesome on grass and has won here before - Tim hasn't."

"Tim has to start well," said Alex Wade from Dulwich. "He will put up a fight but I don't really think he can do it. But if Tim is aggressive enough, he has a little bit of hope."

As everyone settled down to watch the game, the flags started to unfurl, especially as the television cameras did the obligatory sweep across the crowd.

A child walked through the crowd right at the bottom of the hill with a hand-written placard around his neck stating: "I wanted to see Andy Murray"

Henman started dreadfully by losing his second service game but despite losing the first set, the fact that he did claim two break points did give the crowd some hope.

"I think people are too negative about Tim," said Mohamed Mahmud. "With the right support he can do this. He had his chances and I am hoping he can get back into it."

"He still has got a chance," said Samantha Stock. "I just hope he can continue."

But as the fans pondered the possibility of a Henman fightback, Federer assumed total control.

It got so bad that, with Henman 4-0 down, the Mexican wave started - a sure sign that the crowd is either bored or satisfied that they know the end result.

"Federer could beat anyone," said Don Coop after Henman lost the second set. "He is the best there has been. I don't give any hope to Henman now. At this level he is due for retirement."

At the start of the third and final set, as Henman was broken yet again, a lone girl stood on her chair and started a chant of "Hen-man".

But her act of defiance against the inevitable summed up Henman's display, starting well but fading pretty quickly.

The fans were desperate for something to cheer.

And when Henman finally got off the mark in the third set, there was one of the loudest roars of the day - more in relief than anything else.

With the match coming to its inevitable conclusion, two brave souls from Federer's Swiss homeland stood up in the middle of the crowd with a Switzerland flag shouting "we're going to win".

That may have been a pretty obvious thing to say, but the crowd did not want to hear it and good-naturedly shouted the foolhardy pair down.

The crowd on Henman Hill sample the atmosphere
Not everyone was captivated by Henman's display

As the match ended and Federer walked off with his cream jacket, the fans just stared blankly at the large screen in front of them in a state of shock, hardly daring to believe that their darkest fears had been realised.

And as they picked their weary bodies through the discarded Pimms glasses, sandwich wrappers and squash cups, there was no doubt that their man had been well beaten.

"I feel so sorry for him," said Paula Lawrence from South London, colourfully adorned with a Union Jack. "It is time for him to give up."

"He was brave," said Dorian Ferdinando. "He has come up against the best. He has had a brilliant career and you must not forget that he has been fantastic for British tennis."

One man, obviously so excited by the match, was seen fast asleep near the top of the hill and had been for some time. Obviously no-one had the heart to wake him up.

So Henman's challenge comes to an end for another year, and it is getting increasingly unlikely that he will be able to add to his impressive tally of four Wimbledon semi-finals.

"It is just a real shame," said Sarah Huntriss. "Everything he tried to do Federer was one step ahead. We had high expectations that he would at least take a set off Federer, but it was not to be."

And near the end, a child no more than 10-years-old walked through the crowd right at the bottom of the hill with a hand-written placard around his neck stating: "I wanted to see Andy Murray".

Summed the day up really.



SEE ALSO
BBC pundits on Henman
28 Jun 06 |  Tennis
Peerless Federer humbles Henman
28 Jun 06 |  Tennis
Gamewatch: Federer v Henman
28 Jun 06 |  Tennis


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