Former World No says he would love to set foot on the Practennis arena in suburban Mumbai where he won a Satellite tournament in the 1993-94 season
Former World No 4 from Great Britain, Tim Henman reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon four times, but couldn’t win the title. He even entered the Last Four stage at the French and US Open in 2004.
Tim Henman smiles during the launch of The Road to Wimbledon in Mumbai yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan
While the Grand Slam silverware was elusive to him, the 39-year-old hopes that the ‘HSBC Road To Wimbledon’ clinic that he conducted yesterday at the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) can help an Indian live the dream of being a top tennis player in the world.
He spoke to MiD DAY on the sidelines of the clinic. Excerpts from a free-wheeling interview:
It’s a dream for many to play at the All England Club. Being a homegrown player, what are your Wimbledon memories?
I went to Wimbledon as a six-year-old with my mother (Jane) to see Bjorn Borg play in 1981. I looked at Centre Court and told myself that I want to grow up to be a tennis player. That’s the one and only career decision I made. The journey has been a long, but memorable one. Later, when I qualified for Wimbledon, I remember beating Roger Federer after he defeated Pete Sampras. Playing on Centre Court was a different feeling… the atmosphere… the crowd support and everything around. That’s what I want to get across to these kids. I want to tell them that there is no magic secret to reach the top, but a lot of hard work and determination.
Who do you see winning the Australian Open?
Novak Djokovic for sure! Though Rafael Nadal is the current World No 1, the way Djoko finished last year, I think he is the player to beat. Djoko and Nadal are the favourites. Andy Murray is coming back after his surgery and rehab, while Roger will start 2014 after a not-so-great 2013. It would be interesting to see how Andy gets some momentum in the tournament. Despite not having a successful year, Roger remains one of the best players to have played the game. He is not going to play forever. So we should enjoy him till he is playing the sport. He still has the hunger and desire to win. That’s what makes him great.
December 30, 1993: Tim Henman executes a forehand during the Satellite tennis event at the Practennis courts in Andheri. Pic/MiD DAY Archives
There is a recent trend of former greats like Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg coaching players. What’s your reaction to this?
Lendl (Ivan) and his team have been working with Murray for a long time and he has had great results. I am very keen to see what Boris and Stefan do to Djoko and Federer. At that level there is a very small margin for improvement. They don’t have to teach them the basics, but it’s got to do with helping them tactically and mentally. Will it work? Let’s wait and see.
Britain hasn’t produced many top singles players apart from you and Murray….
We have many good athletes in United Kingdom, some of them play soccer, rugby and others, cricket. We have a situation like India. We need to have more kids playing tennis. It’s a good start with the Wimbledon Foundation coming up with this clinic, but such initiatives need to be there across the length and breadth of the country. India has a great tennis history and we just want to bring that tradition back.
The ATP has a packed calendar with more players getting injured…
There is a lot of tennis played today. One of the challenges for the players is to get the schedule right so that they don’t overplay. They need to be fit and healthy. When I was 19, I probably played 40 tournaments in a year because I wanted the opportunity. As you get better you can be more selective. You can pick and choose!
You won a Satellite circuit event here in 1994. How special is Mumbai for you?
I came to Mumbai just before Christmas way back in 1993. I played my first match here on Christmas day. Also, I won my first professional tournament (the four-leg Indian satellite circuit of which Mumbai was the first one) here, so this place will always remain special. I really enjoyed coming back to the city after two decades. I wish I get time to visit the venue where I won — Practennis courts in Andheri.
What do Indian players need to do to compete amongst the best in singles?
It’s a challenge. They need to be very fast on court and need to be able to play for four to five hours at one go. For that, one needs a lot of motivation, mental desire and the right attitude. If they can do that, they can become great players. The challenge for the association (AITA) is to get a lot of players with athletic ability to play tennis. I believe a lot of them play cricket. Murray is very good example, who is great with the ball. He is good at golf, cricket and football, but he is a tennis player. Eventually, they need to focus on tennis and put in 100 per cent.