Belfast Telegraph

Tim Henman: 'I never miss a shot now, I used to miss a lot more on the court'

As he prepares to serve up another year of Wimbledon commentary for the BBC, Tim Henman talks about his career highs, enduring love for sport and how, like most dads, his main job these days is 'taxi driver'

By Kate Whiting

On an ivy-trimmed balcony overlooking the practice courts at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, ominous black clouds behind him, Tim Henman is reminiscing about rain delays.

His boyish good looks belying his 41 years, the father-of-three says: "Everyone will always talk about 2001, when the rain delay didn't help me, but no one ever talks about all the rain delays when it did help me, when I was playing badly and I was able to turn it around.

"It's swings and roundabouts."

Littering his responses with words like "fortunate" and "lucky", it's clear Henman's a glass half-full kind of guy.

In 2001, long before Centre Court had a roof, he famously lost to Goran Ivanisevic over three rain-drenched days, missing out on arguably his best chance of reaching a Wimbledon final.

"There's no doubt if I could play one match in my career again, it would be that semi-final," he concedes of the epic, five-set battle.

However, life moved on and Henman doesn't dwell on what might have been.

"I think there's only one picture in my house of me playing tennis," he says. "I get asked to look back in interviews, which is fine and I loved every minute of my tennis career, but I find myself, especially with my family and my kids, looking forward a lot more."

A week before he retired in 2007, aged 33, his wife Lucy gave birth to their third daughter, Grace.

"My life is massively different. When I was playing professional tennis, I was on the road for 30 or 35 weeks of the year, and most of that was abroad. But with my family - I've got three daughters, who are 13, 11 and eight - I'm really lucky, because the chance has come along to spend a lot of time with them."

When the Championships start on Monday, Henman will be back in the BBC commentary box, which he loves.

"I never miss a shot. I used to miss a lot more on the court," he says, cracking a grin.

It means teaming up with Wimbledon legend Sue Barker again, too; Henman's known her since he was 11.

"Sue Barker used to collect me from school," he explains. "She lived in Esher and we went to school in Oxshott, and she used to play at the David Lloyd club where I played, so sometimes she would collect us from school or bring us back from tennis club. I always look forward to seeing Sue."

Henman, of course, comes from great tennis pedigree, and Wimbledon holds a lot of special meaning.

"My grandmother played, my grandfather and my great-grandmother [Ellen Stanwell-Brown; the first woman to serve overarm at Wimbledon in 1901], but that was never a motivating factor for me. I had two older brothers and we grew up playing all sports, but for some reason, I knew tennis was what I wanted to do," he says.

"My mum brought me here for the first time when I was six and I saw Bjorn Borg play on Centre Court, and that was when I made my one and only career decision."

He made his Wimbledon men's singles debut as a wildcard in 1994 (he went out in the first round to German David Prinosil) and went on to play in four Wimbledon semi-finals, at one point being ranked number four in the world. In 1996, he won a silver medal playing doubles at the Olympics in Atlanta.

Does he still have fond memories 20 years on?

"Yeah, wow, I do," he enthuses. "I'm a massive sports fan, so for me at that stage, the Olympics was the pinnacle of sport - is the pinnacle of sport - but I was more dubious about tennis. I knew I wanted to play, but I almost went to Atlanta more interested in watching all the other sports.

"Once I got the opportunity to compete and got through, and ended up winning a silver medal, I look back at it now as one of my proudest achievements in tennis."

By 2005, it was time to pass the British tennis baton to a then 18-year-old Scot called Andy Murray, who beat Henman in straight sets at the Swiss Indoors.

Henman cites Murray as "definitely the second favourite" to win Wimbledon this year, with his rival Novak Djokovic as "the player to beat".

Murray became a dad in February, which, says Henman from experience, will no doubt have an impact.

"There are different aspects to it. Obviously, if you're travelling with young children, there are a few extra bags that go with it and you've got to manage where you're staying so you can get your sleep.

"But also, on the other side of the coin, it's great for your perspective. Your family, your wife and your kids are far more important than any tennis match, so it looks like Andy's got that balance spot-on."

The women's draw this year will look rather different without Maria Sharapova, who's been banned for two years after testing positive for meldonium. She has appealed, but Henman says sticking to the rules is only fair.

"It's 100% liability for players. She tested positive for the drug ... it used to be legal and, from January 1, it was illegal, so it's very difficult to defend that.

"It's not a good news story for her, or for tennis. The only upside is, it goes to show if you're taking an illegal substance, you're going to get caught, so the deterrent is there."

He says he was never in any doubt about the legality of anything he was taking during his career.

"You have to make sure if you are using an anti-inflammatory, or a supplement, you know exactly where it's coming from and who's prescribed it."

These days, when he's not hard at work commentating for the BBC, the former pro's time is spent ferrying his daughters around, which he admits doesn't leave much time for date nights with Lucy.

"It's difficult, isn't it? It seems like with our children's schedules, all their activities after school and different camps they go to, my biggest job is full-time driver," says Henman, chuckling. "I'm the taxi service."

  • Wimbledon 2016 coverage will begin on BBC2 on Monday, 11.30am

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