After Tim Henmanís heroics on clay in the French Open earlier this month, who am I to suggest he wonít find the green, green grass of Wimbledon even more like home than ever' Surely, in this kind of form he only has to turn up to win it. Unfortunately for Britainís favourite tennis player, sport doesnít work like that. He could, in fact, find it more difficult to perform, in some respects, at the All England Club than he did at Roland Garros.
Many people believe he is destined to win Wimbledon, but if he manages to do it this year the chances are it will have taken a supreme effort. Certainly his draw looks a lot tougher than it was in Paris. It starts out easy enough but if the top players in his half play up to their seedings, he may have to beat Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick just to reach the final. Thatís two potentially exhausting and emotionally-draining matches. The strain could get to him, just as it appeared to do so last year. At least he wonít have to face David Nalbandian, who withdrew on Saturday with a rib injury.
Having said that, I have never seen Henman look fitter than he did at the French. Itís a well-known fact that the body takes more of a pounding on clay than it does on grass, but against that you have to think quicker and move quicker on grass. He looked more comfortable on clay than I have seen him look on grass for at least a couple of years. He was less sure of himself when losing to Lleyton Hewitt and Sebastien Grosjean than he was when losing to Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic.
He was thinking instinctively at the French, which is what he needs to do at Wimbledon. The question is: will he be able to translate that to grass or will he start over-elaborating' We should know after a couple of matches.
Henman believes he is a better player now and overall that may be true. Heís a consummate professional and he will have wanted to improve ó if you donít you fall off the map ó but Iím not sure heís a better volleyer than he was in, say, 2001. His return of serve is definitely better and Iíve never seen his forehand work as well as it did at the French.
He seems more comfortable putting extra pace on his first serve, although I would like to see him hit through the ball more on his second serve, the kicker, instead of pulling back on it a little so it sits up. It wasnít necessarily a bad thing going for more accuracy on his serve at the expense of pace, as his previous coach Larry Stefanki advised.
Henman is capable of reaching the final. I just wonder what sort of mental and physical state he may be in compared to Roger Federer, who, by comparison, may have a fairly gentle passage through, notwithstanding his potential quarter final against Lleyton Hewitt. He has formidable players in his half like Marat Safin and Carlos Moya, it just depends on how badly these guys want it.
I wasnít that surprised Henman lost early in the Stella Artois Championship at Queenís. It wasnít so much a case of him failing to make the transition from clay to grass, as an inevitable emotional let-down after the French. Hewitt will have needed the competition more than Henman because he needs to build up his confidence again.
After the disappointing performance by the Americans in Paris, when none of them reached the third round of a Slam for the first time in the Open era, Roddick and Mardy Fish have a chance to atone. Fish has never been seeded higher in a tournament and has the game for grass, as he proved in reaching the final at Halle. He is in the easiest quarter of the draw because Guillermo Coria will struggle to live up to his third seeding and Iím not expecting a great deal from Juan Carlos Ferrero after all his injury problems.
Itís a shame Andre Agassi withdrew. Whether or not he has played his last Wimbledon remains to be seen. If he had a hip injury, playing on grass would only have aggravated it and heís been due an injury. People forget how well he played at the Australian Open in January when he lost a terrific five-setter to Marat Safin in the semi-finals. I would imagine he would want at least one more crack at that one.
After such a disappointing final in Paris, the women needed a good championship to restore their reputation. But without Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, Iím not sure theyíre going to get it, which will be another blow to their claims for equal prize money.
Iím afraid, folks, it looks like another all-Williams final since I cannot see the French Open champion Anastasia Myskina repeating her success on grass. In fact, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had a match point against her in the fourth round in Paris, could be the pick of the Russians.
| It will be good to see Navratilova put it across one of these whippersnappers, if only one more time
Whatever anyone may think of Martina Navratilovaís return to Slam singles at the age of 47, at least it ought to go better for her at Wimbledon than it did in Paris. Grass was always her preferred surface. I understand she is only playing singles to help her doubles, although it seemed to me she was doing pretty well at doubles as it was.
Still, it will be good to see one of my contemporaries put it across one of these whippersnappers, if only one more time. So, as the late Ronald Reagan said in his most memorable film Knute Rockne ó All American, a story about an indefatigable football coach and his tragically-fated half-back George Gipp: ďWin one for the GipperĒ, Martina.