x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Undercover option is too late for Henman

Andy Murray makes history at SW19 to be the first player to play undercover, eight years too late for when Tim Henman needed it most.

Andy Murray serves to Stanislas Wawrinka during their fourth-round match at Wimbledon. It was the first competitive game at the tournament to be played undercover.
Andy Murray serves to Stanislas Wawrinka during their fourth-round match at Wimbledon. It was the first competitive game at the tournament to be played undercover.

Andy Murray may have made history by winning the first, full competitive match under Wimbledon's much vaunted retractable roof on Monday night, but it was another Briton, Tim Henman, who actually played first underneath the folding cover. With the rain tearing down in the gloom outside, Henman partnered the Belgian Kim Clijsters to victory against the combined might of husband-and-wife-team, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in an exhibition match in May, under the £80million (Dh487m) cover on Centre Court.

While Henman then went on to lose his singles set against Agassi, there is still a certain justice in the fact that he was given the chance to play on Centre Court while the rain fell, given his record at Wimbledon. The serve-and-volley star, who peaked at No 4 in the world rankings, reached the semi-finals four times during his career but, frustratingly, never progress further. Of those semi-final appearances it was his third, the 2001 run at SW19 which, in light of Murray's five set, under-the-roof thriller, will have the most resonance for the affable Brit.

He had reached the last four and faced the unseeded, No 125 in the world Goran Ivanisevic to see who would play Pat Rafter in the final. Henman looked set to reach the final when he led by two sets to one, whitewashing Ivanisevic along the way in the third set. His Croatian opponent was struggling with a shoulder injury and looked beaten. But the rain came and would force the match into two extra days.

Given time to recover his fitness Ivanisevic served brilliantly and Henman was unable to find his form and was knocked out, with the Croat going on to beat Rafter in the final. Is it pushing it too far to say that Henman would have won that year had there been a roof in June 2001? Perhaps. But Ivanisevic would not have had as much time to recover physically if the game had continued beneath a roof, rather than having extra hours to nurse his shoulder.

The significance of a retractible cover on Centre Court is not lost on the man himself however. "It certainly would have helped me in 2001," Henman admitted. "I've been out here on court with the roof closed and I think it really looks great. I think it will really add to the atmosphere of the place." Players are not the only beneficiaries of the roof. It now guarantees live play to broadcasters, and for the fans, many of whom see a Centre Court ticket as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And for Britain's favourite son, Andy Murray, the fitting first player to win a match under the cover, a country's expectations can now literally go through the roof. stregoning@thenational.ae